"The Free Exhibition of Modern Art." Athenaeum 7 April 1849, 362.


It is pleasant to turn from the mass of commonplace–the records of mere fact or the extravagant conceits exhibited in the illustrations of some of our most cherished writers, prose and poetic–to a manifestation of true mental power; in which Art is made the exponent of some high aim, and what is "of the earth earthy" and of the art material is lost sight of in dignified and intellectual purpose. Such a work will be found here–not from a long practised hand; but from one young in experience–new to fame–Mr. G. D. Rossetti. He has painted The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (368): a work which for its invention and for many parts of its design would be creditable to any Exhibition. In idea it forms a fitting pendant to Mr. Herbert’s "Christ subject to His Parents at Nazareth." A legend may possibly have suggested to Mr. Rossetti also the subject of his present work. The Virgin is in this picture represented as living amongst her family, and engaged in the task of embroidering drapery–to supply, possibly, some future sacred vestment. The picture–which is full of allegory–has much of that sacred mysticism inseparable from the works of the early masters and much of the tone of the poets of the same time. While immature practice is visible in the executive department of the work, every allusion gives evidence of maturity of thought,–every detail that might enrich or amplify the subject has found a place in it.

The personification of the Virgin is an achievement worthy of an older hand. Its spiritualized attributes and the great sensibility with which it is wrought inspire the expectation that Mr. Rossetti will continue to pursue the lofty career which he has here so successfully begun. The sincerity and earnestness of the picture remind us forcibly of the feeling with which the early Florentine monastic painters wrought; and the form and face of the Virgin recall the words employed by Savonarola, in one of his powerful sermons–"Hor pensa quanta bellezza havea la Vergine, che avea tanta sanctita, che risplendeva in quella faccia; della quale dice S. Tommaso, che nessuno che la vedessi mai la guardo per concupiscentia, tanta era la sanctita che rilustrava in lei." Mr. Rossetti has perhaps unknowingly entered into the feelings of the renowned Dominican who in his day wrought as much reform in art as in morals. The coincidence is of high value to the picture.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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