Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lady Lilith

[Click on image to enlarge] Lady Lilith (1867) represents the attraction of purely sensual beauty through the figure of Lilith, in Talmudic legend the first wife of Adam, who runs away from him to become a witch. Like Sibylla Palmifera, Lady Lilith was later incorporated into Rossetti's sonnet sequence The House of Life (1870), under the title Body's Beauty. The paintings and the poems provide the opportunity to compare Rossetti's sense of the allures and dangers of what he defined as two kinds of beauty. Rossetti originally used two different models for the paintings: Alexa Wilding, who represented a more spiritual beauty, for Sibylla Palmifera; and Fanny Cornforth for Lady Lilith, whom Rossetti used to represent a more purely sensual beauty. The fact that Rossetti later replaced Cornforth's face with Wilding's in Lady Lilith to please a patron leads one to ask how distinct these types of beauty are.

 






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Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
      (The witch he loved before the gift of Eve.)
      That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And still her enchanted hair was the first gold.

And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
      And, subtly of herself contemplative,
      Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.

The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where
      Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
      Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so went
      Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent,
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.

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