lungi quel cielo dal tartareo manto
che qui mi cuopre: e lungi ahi lungi ahi quanto
le notti che saran dai dì che furo.
Lungi da me mi sento; e ognor sognando
cerco e ricerco e resto ascoltatrice
The subject was suggested to the artist by William Morris, whose wife Jane was the model for this and many other works by Rossetti. Her own life bore similarities to that of the captive goddess, and the painting could be seen as much a portrait of Jane as a representation of Proserpine. By all accounts, Mrs Morris was not a happy woman and Morris was a cold husband. Jane enjoyed an intimate relationship with Rossetti which spanned decades. Rossetti painted Proserpine while staying with the couple at Kelmscott. Eight oil versions were made, most meeting with disaster of one sort or another. This, the seventh, was painted for the Liverpool shipping magnate F.R. Leyland, as a replacement for a previous version which was damaged in transit.
Various symbols contained in the painting include the pomegranate, which signifies captivity and marriage, and the incense-burner, the attribute of a goddess. The decorative quality of the picture is accentuated by the curve of the ivy spray, a symbol of clinging memory, which is echoed in Proserpine’s arm and the rich folds of drapery. The painting is inscribed with the artist’s signature and date on a scroll at lower left: ‘DANTE GABRIELE ROSSETTI RITRASSE NEL CAPODANNO DEL 1874’ (‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted this at the beginning of 1874’). Rossetti, who was also a poet, wrote a sonnet for the painting, inscribing it in Italian on the picture