When I was first tossing around ideas for this blog I knew a couple of things had to happen: the blog itself needed to be named after a Rossetti work, said painting would have to be the inaugural post and I wanted the subject to be Alexa Wilding or Jane Morris. Like Meatloaf says, two outta three ain’t bad!
The Blue Bower is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and features Fanny Cornforth, most famously the star of Bocca Baciata. Fanny had always been a bit of a mystery to me. I knew she was the woman Gabriel was involved with before he fell down the rabbit hole with Jane Morris (more on that in a later post), and I knew she was Bocca Baciata and Fair Rosamund but that was about it. I knew nothing of her life or how she even got involved with the Pre-Raphaelites. Luckily Kirsty Stonell Walker wrote Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth to help. I highly recommend it (more on that later as well) if you’re like me and generally lacking in the information about Fanny* department.
So why did I choose The Blue Bower? Blame it on the hairpin in Fanny’s hair. There is something about that pin that I could not get out of my head and the more I thought about it the more I realized that the Blue Bower would work as a blog title. It incorporated the things I loved about the Pre-Raphaelite movement (Rossetti, the color blue, luscious backgrounds) but more importantly the name evoked visions of harmony, peace, serenity and beauty. All of those things I associate with the Pre-Rapahelite movement (along with lust but we shall cross that bridge when we get to it) so it seemed fitting to name my blog after that.
Let’s talk more about the painting itself. I might be committing PRB heresy but I do think this is the best picture of Fanny that Rossetti did. Bocca Baciata rightly gets raves (the colors dear Gods the colors!) but to me it is almost uncomfortable how intimate the painting is. Comparatively the Blue Bower seems as if we’ve just caught our subject in mid-play, with a light smile that seems to say “I cannot finish this song if you keep stopping me.” While Fanny’s hair looks untamed in Bocca Baciata here in the Blue Bower it seems to be at rest, perhaps a result of his waning affections for Fanny.
The background is something to note as well. Per the Rossetti Archive:
The picture is an aesthetic work, as emphasized by the background tiles (inspired by the blue and white china DGR loved and collected). Also notable is the fantasy recreation of a Japanese koto as the musical instrument.
One of my not so secret obsessions is Japanese culture and while there was always something familiar about this painting it wasn’t until I visited the Rossetti Archive that I was able to put two and two together. It’s hard to address specifically the nuances that gives me a Japanese vibe, perhaps it’s the flowers in the background. I’m not entirely sure what the varieties of flowers are, I think one is a water lily? Maybe that’s the trigger. I wonder if there is a comprehensive listing of flowers in various Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It would be interesting to see and maybe cross-reference them to the general language of flowers.
Fanny and I wholeheartedly welcome you to the Blue Bower. We hope you enjoy your stay.
*I really wanted to make a joke about folks lacking in the Fanny but I refrained. Mostly.