In An Artist's Studio
One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
A saint, an angel; -- every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light;
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
This collage, made with Christina Rossetti's poem and portraits and details by Botticelli would seem an unlikely match. Not only did they work in different periods but also under different artistic paradigms. However, it is the content which makes them compliment each other.
The poem is Rossetti's reaction to her brother, the Pre-Raphalite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti's use of his female models. She notes, somewhat disdainfully, how each paining takes something away from the model and how the artist's relationship can be an exploitiative one. She explains how the painter's obsession with his model ("feeds upon her face" "not as she is, but as she fills his dream") has become detached from her and intimates that the model might have some unreturned romantic interest in him.
This ties in well with the Botticelli paintings. All of them depict the same model, Simonetta Vespucci, regarded as the most beautiful woman of Renaissance Florence. It has been suggested that she and Botticelli had an affair, although there is no evidence to prove this. She does, however frequent his paintings at an astonishing rate. Simonetta died in 1476 from tubercholosis, only 22 years old having turned the heads of artists and statesmen alike. When Botticelli completed his Birth of Venus, from which the first detail is taken, nine years later, he was very much doing what Rossetti described in the poem. Who knows, perhaps he might have been doing so all the time.
At any rate, the fascination led Botticelli to request to be buried at her feet when he died. Their graves can be seen in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence.