Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lady
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.
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
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
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,
Thy spell through him, and left his straight
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.