2016 Undergraduate Awards

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Throughout his career, Dante Gabriel Rossetti struggled with a poetic and visual synthesis of the ideal with the sensual, exploring and attempting to resolve the complex paradox of Victorian sexuality, a feat not easily achieved during an era of such fervent morality. Developing his own Romantic Syncretism, Rossetti presents a synthesis of multifaceted symbolism and allegory in his work, combining pagan and Christian themes to create a liminal space in which the divided natures of his female subjects, their object versus subject-hood, are unified. His approach to Christian symbology, via a fleshy and aesthetic representation of the female form, retains a sense of spiritual transcendence, thus defining a mode of access other than faith to the spiritual. This paper focuses on works that present the female subject in a liminal or transitory state, specifically Found, Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee, La Bella Mano, and The Blessed Damozel, examining how Rossetti represents and utilizes the transitional void between the pure and profane. It will be argued that Rossetti is able to erect a bridge between these previously sterilized and distilled halves of the self, the virginal and sexual, in order to reveal their complimentary and mirrored nature. Unfortunately, a large amount of the scholarship surrounding Rossetti’s work fails to identify the ways in which he not only undermines traditional approaches and responses to Christian themes, but also transforms recurrent ideas surrounding spiritual transcendence. The research and analysis included in this essay reexamines both Rossetti’s poetry and paintings to gain a better understanding of his post-enlightenment concern for the disappearing deity, and the division of the body from the soul, revealing the ways in which he unites religious faith with a fleshy sensuality, merging the spirit and body into one indistinguishable framework.


Image: "Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is in the public domain.