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The Goddess of Love and Beauty: Dante Rossetti's Venus

Amanda Stancati and Eva Ho

Analyzing the text of "Venus Verticordia"

She hath the apple in her hand for thee,
   Yet almost in her heart would hold it back;
   She muses, with her eyes upon the track
Of that which in thy spirit they can see.
Haply, ‘Behold, he is at peace,’ saith she;
   ‘Alas! the apple for his lips,—the dart
   That follows its brief sweetness to his heart,—
The wandering of his feet perpetually!’

A little space her glance is still and coy;
   But if she give the fruit that works her spell,
Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.
   Then shall her bird's strained throat the woe foretell,
   And her far seas moan as a single shell,
And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy.
The painting, Venus Verticordia, elicits biblical and mythological references that can be interpreted in light of the poem by Rossetti. With motifs like the apple, halo, flowers, and arrow, each explicitly representing something more, the relationship between the poem and painting leave room for discussion.The apple is a significant aspect of the painting. It is a reference to the apple from the forbidden tree of knowledge that Eve ate in the Garden of Eden that caused the fall of man and original sin. Additionally, it is a reference to the apple that Paris offered Venus in Greek mythology in appreciation of her exquisite beauty. The first two lines of the poem develop the idea of temptation and can be interpreted in many different ways. Venus possesses the apple, or symbolically, the power to defy God, gain knowledge, exercise her sexuality, and influence Adam, or men in general. But, in the case of Paris and Venus, the apple is used as a sign of beauty. Yet in the poem, Venus is hesitant to give the apple away, demonstrating her ambiguous nature that will later be discussed further. The apple is referred to as a “dart,” having negative connotations, and is meant to be aimed at a target, in which the sweetness is only momentary and then pain prevails. In the second stanza, it is stated that the apple “works [Venus’] spell.” This reference to a ‘dart’ and the concept of a ‘spell’ demonstrates the female power associated with knowledge, beauty, and sexuality, but is always followed by 'woe'. Although Venus is hesitant to give the apple away, she exercises her freedom in doing so, and is triumphant over the man.
Venus Verticordia
Venus Verticordia
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
This triumph is related to the reference to Troy in the last line of the poem: “And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy.” Venus is represented as “dark” and Troy is “light.” This contrast between light and dark suggests Venus’ debased nature, while Troy is lit, after winning the battle over the Greeks. Rossetti believed the myth of Troy to be powerful in allegorical meaning.@ Ultimately, Venus was able to overcome the darkness.This contrast of light and dark further reiterates Venus’ ambiguity. She is neither evil nor a fragile woman.@ Her appearance in the painting is soft, yet the poem reveals her feminine powers and strength. It is interesting to note the irony in the use of both an apple and a halo in the painting. The apple denotes sexuality, while the halo denotes angelic qualities. The flowers and arrow can also represent sexuality. The flowers are a sign of fertility while the arrow is associated with Cupid, the god of love, but more specifically, of sexual love. Furthermore, the dominant colour of the painting is red which denotes sin and power.