Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Love’s Greeting


Love’s Greeting

See original picture here

Just as art speaks directly to the humanity in everyone,[1] the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti brings the world of painting and poetry together to evoke a unique compassion from his viewers. His work, “Love’s Greeting,” is a beautiful, glowing visual masterpiece portraying a haunting haze of provocative love. The poem seduces the viewer to relate to this painting, and although he did not write the poem himself, this love is what Rossetti might have been sensing when he created “Love’s Greeting.” The poem came from the French courtly literature in Guillaume de Lorris’s, “Roman de la Rose.”[2] Rossetti’s painting reveals the dreams of chivalric romance and courtly love. By looking at the lines of Roman de la Rose, the colors, imagery and words in the painting, Rossetti reaches right to the viewer’s heart, and with an evocation of medieval history.

“Love’s Greeting” illustrates courtly love – love defined by intense desires and emotions, from that of a knight who serves his lady as he would a lord.[3] As seen here, women were held in time by art and prose, they were elevated to a level of goddess. A man only exists to serve his lady: to do good deeds for her, to be a brave, good knight –in order to win her over. She is an ennobling force. True, passionate love in the medieval time was often adulterous because marriages were arranged for business and power not forged in the fires of passion and spirit. The relationship depicted here is one of a man worshiping his lady like a saint or a goddess.

Symbols in Rossetti’s paintings enhance the experience of his artwork. For example, in Fiammetta, Bocca Baciata and Body’s Beauty,[4] he uses different types of flowers to represent or play off of emotions or ideals: Marigolds, white roses and an array of floral arrangements to show sensuous love, pain and beauty. There are three main symbols in “Love’s Greeting” that touch on many aspects of courtly love: the sunflowers, the roses and the angel. In the painting, the crowned angel playing a stringed instrument stands next to a woman kissing a man, who is on his knees. The angel’s wings embrace the couple, and there are flowers in the right corner: red roses guarded by a fence and yellow sunflowers on the ground below. The angel is looking at the viewer, whose eye is drawn to the kissing couple. The woman stands over her lover — showing her power over him. The angel’s wings surround the two, representing a side of spirituality, while the red roses show sexuality and desire on the other. Entwined in this circle are sunflowers. Just like sunflowers blindly follow the sun — so to do chivalrous knights, who blindly follow their women in passionate desire. The circle created by these objects surrounds the glowing couple. It shows all the passionate feelings of any “Love’s greeting.”

The words of this poem remind us of the true power of love, and the pain that can be associated with this obsession. Roman de la Rose,” according to Britannica, was the “most influential allegorical work in French…where courtly love is first celebrated, then undermined.” [5] The battle between spirituality and sexuality is represented in the painting where the angel is closest to the women because she captures more of the ideals of spirituality, while the man has to deal with the beauty of a rose and the eventual pain imposed by the thorns of unfulfilled desire and obsession. In the chosen lyrics from “Roman de la Rose” for this painting, one can see the iconic way men viewed their “perfect” women:

Tender as dew her cheeks’ warm life; / She was as simple as a wife,/ She was as white as lilies are./ Her face was sweet & smooth & fair:/ Slender & very straight she was,/ And on her cheeks no paint might pass./ Her fair hair was so long that it/ Shook when she walked about her feet:/ Eyes, nose & mouth were perfect art./ Exceeding pain is at my heart/ When I remember me of her.[6]

The lyrics seem to play with the painting. Words and descriptions such as white lilies, smooth, slender…everything describing this lover as “perfect art” shows how much this man is infatuated by this women: her purity, nature, her walk – her flawlessness. The words above and below the painting are roughly translated as: “Madonna, God made you, God watches you, Madonna, God honors you. God raises you, God gives you your wishes.” These words of praise surround this chosen moment in time. The angel surrounds the lovers. Rossetti sees that this woman is everything — God’s creation is honored and elevated. She is all one expects from a first encounter with love. By painting this picture for “Roman de la Rose,” she is further glorified as perfect.

The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the white of the angel’s gowns and the white shirt of the kneeling man – and most importantly to the faces of the two kissing lovers. The wings and the ribbons hold the artwork together, while the roses and sunflowers stand out of balance, forcing the viewer’s eyes to find them. The colors seem to create a shimmering haze, the fog that love can place over a dreaming soul. The pain felt in the poem is missing from the painting. It hides, perhaps in the ever-knowing eyes of the angel, waiting to wipe away these fragile, fleeting feelings with the pluck of her fingers and a whimsical change of tune: “Exceeding pain is at my heart/ When I remember me of her.”[7]

Figures from http://www.rossettiarchive.org: Bocca Baciata, Fiammetta, Body’s Beauty.[8]


[1] Rose, Gillian. “The Good Eye: looking at pictures using compositional interpretation.” Visual Methodologies.  Sage Publications, March 2001. Page 50.

[2] “Roman de la Rose.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 06 Nov. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/507700/Roman-de-la-rose&gt;.

[4] The Rossetti Archive, www.rossettiarchive.org. 3 November 2008

[5] “Courtly love.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 06 Nov. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/140814/courtly-love&gt;.

[6] Lines from the Roman de la Rose, 1850: The Rossetti Archive, http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/9-1850.dukems.rad.html#p1b: 3 November 2008

[7] Lines from the Roman de la Rose, 1850: The Rossetti Archive, http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/9-1850.dukems.rad.html#p1b: 3 November 2008

[8] www.rossettiarchive.org

(C) Abbie Wasserman

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About inmyroots

Aspiring Success. https://inmyroots.wordpress.com
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