Elizabeth Siddal died 11th February 1862, she was an English artists’ model, a poet and painted herself. She was the model for Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s early paintings of women.
“Lizzie” was born into a family that were not poverty stricken, and after the moved from Hatton Garden to Southwark in Southern London, she soon given more siblings and was very close to them. All in all it seems that the family were rather close and despite there being no record of her attending school she was able to read and write. She had a love for poetry even from a young age.
For the time in which she lived Elizabeth lived a very positive life and was a strong woman for the society in which she lived. Women were still pretty much viewed as objects and possessions much like American Black Slaves were.
She was engaged to the artist Rossetti and began to study with him, in contrast to his idealized paintings hers were quite harsh but she was also given to writing poetry. Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed his peace “Beata Beatrix” one year after her death. A rather beautiful memorial to her after her death, with the way in which she is painted she seems to have an almost keen awareness of her impending death. The true love of Rossetti for his wife also deepens the meaning of the painting and because of this it is praised for the emotion depicted in it.
As Siddal had come from a working-class family Rossetti feared the day he bought her home to his parents. She was the victim of harsh criticism from his sisters and his family’s disapproval seems to have postponed the initial marriage. It also meant that Siddal worried he would replace her for a younger muse, which added to later depression and illness. At the wedding she was so ill she had to be carried to the church and down the isle, after however, once she was well enough they went to their honeymoon in France.
The ten year engagement was broken off several times and he was known to have affairs. This was likely no help to her at all. She was riddled with depression and sickness but in 1861 she was overjoyed to learn she was pregnant. She was then sadly gifted with the tragedy of a stillborn daughter, in 1862 she overdosed on laudanum shortly after becoming pregnant for a second time.
Rossetti found her unconscious and dying in bed, it was a death ruled accidental but there were rumours about a suicide note he had found. He was consumed with grief, it is suggested that he took the note and had it destroyed as at the time suicide was still considered both illegal and immoral. It would have been a scandal and prevented her from a Christian burial.
Why have I picked her for my blog? Well really I suppose it’s more about Dante. He buried poetry of hers with her in a small journal, many were the only copies he had of her poetry. He slid the book into her hair and she was interred at Highgate Cemetery (yes I should really blog about the splendid place). By 1869 Rossetti was addicted to drugs and alcohol, he was convinced he was going blind and could no longer pain so he began to write poetry once more.
For some reason before publishing his newer works he became obsessed with retrieving the ones he had put into his wife’s hair. He applied for an exhumation and it was done in the dead of night, Rossetti himself was not present. Charles Augustus Howell, the Home Secretary, handed them to her and noted that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her beauty in tact. A worm had however gone through the book making some of them difficult to read, Rossetti then published the older ones. It is said that he was haunted by the exhumation for the rest of his life.
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