Although a highly-finished work of art in its own right, this beautiful drawing was made as a study for Rossetti’s large oil painting A Vision of Fiammetta of 1878 (private collection) depicting a statuesque woman in a red gown standing among the boughs of an apple-tree. The first reference to the composition in Rossetti’s published correspondence was made on 21 September 1877 in a letter to his brother William; ‘I should also like to go on also when possible with the thing I began from Mrs Stillman.’ (Oswald Doughty (ed.), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4 volumes, 1965-7, vol IV., p.1501) In a letter to Jane Morris, Rossetti wrote that he had ‘accomplished the complete head and neck from Mrs Stillman for the Fiammetta subject.’ (British Museum Department of Manuscripts)
The model for A Vision of Fiammetta was Marie Spartali Stillman, arguably Rossetti’s most beautiful model in later years who by this time had become a close friend and protégé (for biographical details, see her self-portrait included in this sale). Although she posed as the subsidiary figures of attendants in several works by Rossetti, including Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (Walker Art Gallery) and The Bower Meadow (Manchester City Art Gallery) Rossetti found her beauty very challenging to capture and A Vision of Fiammetta is the only painting of her as a singular figure. However, it is a glorious celebration of her, goddess-like in her majesty and haloed by a golden nimbus in which the winged figure of love surrounds her head.
Marie painted her own depictions of Fiammetta in 1876 as The Light Sight of Fiammetta and again in 1878 Fiammetta Singing (sold in these rooms, 15 November 2011, lot 75) only a year after she had posed for Rossetti’s more iconic image. She chose a more literal translation of a subject of Boccaccio’s muse singing among her women-folk, whilst Rossetti painted a visionary scene of Fiammetta as a glorious dream-like apparition of love. Rossetti was never more technically brilliant than when he was using coloured chalks and the present picture is surely among his most accomplished with its soft and sculptural translation of the contours of her face with her high cheek-bones, Cupid’s-bow lips and beguiling golden eyes.
'Behold Fiammetta, shown in Vision here.
Gloom-girt 'mid Spring-flushed apple-growth she stands;
And as she sways the branches with her hands,
Along her arm the sundered bloom falls sheer,
In separate petals shed, each like a tear'
‘Fiammetta – For a Picture’ – from Ballads and Sonnets
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