In August 1851 Rossetti wrote in a letter; ‘I have at the moment two subjects en train – one from Dante’s Vita Nuova, and one from the Poems of Tibullus.’ This makes the present picture one of Rossetti’s very earliest watercolours, the other picture referred to in the letter probably being Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Marriage Feast, Denies him her Salutation (private collection).
The model for Delia was Elizabeth Siddall, Rossetti’s tragic auburn-haired muse and future wife, who first met the artist in 1850. This watercolour was among Rossetti’s earliest use of her as a model for a watercolour and one of the studies for this figure was later used by him as the basis for Beata Beatrix which was a posthumous memorial of his love for her following her suicide. As Delia, Rossetti cast ‘Lizzie’ as the loyal lover patiently waiting for Tibullus to return to her – just as Lizzie had to wait for Rossetti to propose. Ironically this watercolour belonged to Rossetti's mistress Fanny Cornforth.
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