Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828–1882 Birchington-on-Sea)
Subject: William Shakespeare (British, Stratford-upon-Avon 1564–1616 Stratford-upon-Avon)
Medium: Red, brown, off-white and black chalks on tan paper; four sheets butt-joined (and slightly tented)
Dimensions: sheet: 35 3/4 x 30 3/4 in. (90.8 x 78.1 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Jessie Lemont Trausil, 1947
Accession Number: 47.66
Long attracted by Jane Burden Morris’s unconventional beauty, Rossetti placed her at the center of this sheet, which he began as a head study, then developed to represent Mariana from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Tennyson’s poem Mariana in the Moated Grange. Her expression and dejected posture convey frustrated desire and weary resignation—in both sources, Mariana waits unhappily for a tarrying fiancé. The artist likely intended the theme to echo Jane’s real-life dilemma, as about 1868 her nine-year marriage to William Morris grew strained and she became increasingly close to Rossetti.
The drawing relates to a painting Rossetti made in 1870, now in the Aberdeen City Art Gallery and Museum, and echoes lines from Act IV, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's play, where Mariana listens to a song that includes the line, "Take, O take, those lips away..." In the painting the artist replaced the vase of flowers with a singing boy, and gave Mariana a piece of embroidery to hold rather than a sprig of sycamore.