Bought from the artist by J. Hamilton Trist in 1866 for £52. 10s;
His sale, Christie's, London, 9 April 1892, lot 106;
Bought by his son H. H. Trist;
Thence by descent to Mrs H. H. Trist;
Her sale, Christie's, London, 23 April 1937, lot 91;
G. F. Simms by 1955;
Jerrold N. Moore by 1971;
Newcastle, The Stone Gallery;
Sotheby's, 11 June 1993, lot 103a, where purchased by the present owner
H. C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, 1899, p. 143, cat. no. 180;
Ford Madow Hueffer, Rossetti, 1902, p. 144;
Ed. Kerrison Preston, Letters of Graham Robertson, 1953, p.372;
Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), A Catalogue Raisonne, 1971, p. 93, catalogue no. 166
This early work by Rossetti, La Castagnetta is perhaps his most energetic oil painting, depicting a female dancer immersed in the passion of her dance. Her billowing green robes and long loose hair are animated by her whirling action, as she spins and leaps to the music of her castanets. Unusually for a Pre-Raphaelite beauty, there is the glimmer of a smile upon her face, the only instance by Rossetti when he painted a woman smiling. Her hair is bedecked with a garland of roses and around her is a bower of vines, each suggesting that her revelry is ritualistic. She may be intended to represent a light-footed Bacchante or a more generic devotee of pagan worship. The flowers, vines and her green dress are suggestive of organic growth and fruitfulness, a motif which runs through Rossetti’s work from the mid 1860s onwards, in which the beauty and suggested sensuality of women, is emphasised by glorious blooms of flowers and mouth-watering fruit.
The alternative title The Daughter of Herodias has been attached to this picture and the gleeful dancing of the figure would be consistent with a depiction of the most famous of all femme-fatales, Salome. Towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, in the hand of the likes of Gustave Moreau, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, representations of Salome epitomised the age of Fin-de Siecle. Salome represents passionate, exotic, pagan danger in the figure of a luscious twirling woman whose beauty is deadly to those who get too close.
Virginia Surtees has suggested that La Castagnetta was probably painted no later than 1863 and it is likely that it was painted late in 1862 when a new model was briefly engaged by Rossetti for a number of small paintings he was designing. Her name was Agnes Manetti, a woman of Scotch origins, known in Rossetti’s circle as ‘Fatty Aggie’. Rossetti made at least three portrait drawings of Aggie (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, National Gallery of Wales in Cardiff and the Chelsea Public Library) and she appears in the watercolour version of Sweet Tooth also dateable to around 1862. Aggie is first mentioned in the diary of George Price Boyce on the 22nd of October 1862, ‘To Rossetti’s studio with him… (he) had made divers drawings of "Fatty" Aggie M.’ (ed. Virginia Surtees, The Diaries of George Price Boyce, 1980, p.36). Boyce clearly liked Aggie as he made drawings of her in January 1863 and gave her a Florentine mosaic brooch after she visited him for breakfast one day. William Michael Rossetti mentions Aggie in his memoirs as a girl (erroneously named Jessie), ‘of no rigid virtue who had a most energetic as well as beautiful profile, not without some analogy to the great Napoleon’ (pg. 243). Aggie was one of a coterie of young ‘Stunners’ which Rossetti employed in the mid 1860s, including Ada Vernon, Ellen Smith and Alexa Wilding all of whom were approached in the street by Rossetti. Ada Vernon lived on the Kings Road, Ellen Smith was a laundress close to Rossetti’s home on Cheyne Walk and another model who Rossetti was painting in 1863 Annie Miller was also a local Chelsea girl. It would seem that Rossetti ‘discovered’ these beauties in his immediate locale and that Aggie also lived close by.
The pivotal work in Rossetti’s oeuvre was Bocca Baciata (private collection) painted only a few years before La Castagnetta, in which the main motive for the painting was to suggest the voluptuous sensuality of Venetian painting. In the proceeding years, Rossetti was to devote much of his artistic expression to the portrayal of various beautiful models, dressed in sumptuous fabrics, exuding sexuality and glamour, the compositions constrained and the atmosphere humid. La Castagnetta is unusual among the early works as the figure is unleashed and apparently out of doors, freed from the world of bric-a-brac of the woman’s boudoir which was the residence of most of his fleshy sirens. 1863 saw the production of several small paintings of voluptuous three-quarter length studies of female figures as romantic heroines, including Annie Miller as Helen of Troy (Hamburg Kunsthalle), a Mrs Beyer as Joan of Arc (private collection) and Mrs Knewstub as My Lady Greensleeves (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University).
The figure of the woman lost in the passion of dance and dressed in pagan robes and garlands, appears to have been suggested by a figure in The Parable of the Vineyard – The Feast of The Vintage (William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow), designed in 1861 for the east window of St Martin’s Church in Scarborough. This picture was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862, at the time when Rossetti likely designed La Castagnetta. The pose adopted by Aggie bears a striking similarity to that of the figure of the woman attempting to prevent the entry of Mary in Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) an important pen and ink drawing of 1858. It is likely that La Catagnetta was based upon a lost sketch for this picture. A finished figure sketch for La Castagnetta is listed by Surtees (private collection, Surtees catalogue number 166a, plate. 237). After being sold from Rossetti's studio, La Castagnetta appears to have been worked upon by another hand, possibly Rossetti's studio assistant Henry Treffry Dunn. However a photograph of the painting taken when it was first sold is reproduced by Surtees and differs little from the picture in its present state.
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