"Art. The National Institution." Critic 1 Jul. 1850, 334-335.


We have spoken of all the subject-pictures at this gallery requiring notice, except those of messrs. Rossetti and Deverell. The former exhibits an Annunciation, Ecce Ancilla Domini (225), which is in symbolic treatment, the completion of his last year’s work, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin. The emblem of her growing discipline in purity, the embroidery of a lily which she was there represented working after one watered by an angel, is here shown folded up to receive the great tidings,–to be the Lord’s handmaid, blessed among women. And the lily which was heretofore the example for her reproduction, is now presented to her by the angel of the message, is become her’s [sic] and part of her for ever. The type has found its antitype, and is exhausted therein. The expression of the Virgin is of craving submission, of a longing which sees the glory through the obedience, and to the satisfying of which the glory would fail, had she not already said in her heart, "Thy will be done." The Angel, floating without wings, will not quite alight on the earth: round his feet are flames of the supernal fire; and his countenance, though not stern, is austerely solemn. It is early morning, while the house is yet hushed, the dawn of the new cycle from God; the Virgin herself is but just awake at the presence of the Angel, and has raised herself upon her bed listening. Such is the picture; the emblem of purity carried out into the white walls and floor, into the garb of the Angel and the Virgin’s long robe, pure white, and into the curtains of the bed, blue, as suggestive of heaven. Accessories there are none, we may almost say; the feeling of the work forbidding any save such as might serve a typical purpose, and they are few and simple. The standard, not of form, for in every part the immediate study from nature is evident, but of material embodiment, is that of the early Italian devotional paintings, as being, if the most spiritually earnest, so also the most capable of reducing to expression the religious sentiment. The painting of the work is throughout careful, and, in the heads, limbs, and draperies, that of the Virgin especially, extremely minute; stippled to a degree that would, we think, fail to impart sufficient force or breadth to a picture of extended scale. Some lack of the superhuman nature may be felt in the head of the Angel; and the appearance of floating is not entirely realized: a result to which the straight unwaving form of the priest’s chasuble in which he is habited, with its long vertical folds, probably contributes. Mr. Rossetti has acted wisely in painting the hair of the Virgin without the adjunct of gilt, which, in his other picture, seemed, however, to aim at expressing rather honour and reverence than mere exoteric fact. Seldom have we met with works in which the painter’s art is so serenely confined, without carelessness or inaccuracy, to the office of a vehicle for presenting ideas.

Mr. Deverell’s subject is the singing of the song from Twelfth Night (243):

"The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,

And the free maids that weave their thread with bones,

Do use to chaunt it. It is silly, sooth,

And dallies with the innocence of love,

Like the old age."

The value of the picture is to besought for more in the general character than in particulars: and this is as it should be. It is the sentiment of the scene that had to be realized; a dreamy beauty and melancholy, echoing, not in the words of one speech, but through the tenor of all: so, in its embodiment by art, should all incidents merge into one suggestion. that Mr. Deverell should altogether accomplish this would be as absurd to maintain as unreasonable to expect. Shakspere [sic] himself has but accomplished it, and through a medium more metaphysical and concentrative. But there is sufficient feeling in the several groups, and sufficient oneness of interest to draw together and combine our apprehension of their individual excellences. The musicians and the personages of the background, together with the background itself, go far to the expression of the picture;–a fact significant and implying congruity with the chief action: and we think that much has been done towards overcoming one grand difficulty which stands at the threshold of the subject,–the union, that is, of general connecting sentiment and personal character in the Clown. For the Duke something of a more noble refinement, and certainly of nobler action, might have been selected; and, of the two pages to the right, while we are willing to admit, trivial as it is, the swinging of a button by one, as pre-supposing abstraction, we demur to the other, who imitates the motion of playing on a flute,–an action which, though clearly referring the spectator to music, does not refer him to the music of the picture. The head of Viola is beautifully intended, but not physically beautiful enough, owing, as we fancy, to inadequate execution; and her position is in perfect accordance and subordination to the pervading idea. She looks at the Duke, with meekly raised eyes and in quiet thought: the music is about her, and translates itself into the current of her own fancies, and these into itself. The costume of this figure is too flimsily theatrical; and we think the impolicy as well as immodesty of her very short dress must have been overlooked by the painter. In general, however, the costumes tell well, whether really correct or not. The colour is rather pale, and, without being careless, seems in a manner to want the last finishing. Mr. Deverell has here, for the first time in a form at all conspicuous, entered on art boldly and with credit to himself; his faults are those of youth, and his beauties will doubtless mature into the resources of a true artist.

These two works have been ascribed to the same class as those of Messrs. Hunt and Millais, at the Royal Academy; a class, it may be allowed, sufficiently capacious in its range of subject, and admitting of not a few modifications in treatment. But perhaps it will finally be discovered that these artists are not imitating a style ready made for them, and are copyists of none but nature, with such adjuncts of style as their eyes teach them, and they have taught their hands to reproduce.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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