"‘it is my very best picture — no inch of it worse than another’ "Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
La Ghirlandata, 1873
Oil on canvas
123 x 87cm
Medallion Frame, c.1873
Wood, gesso and gold leaf, 156 x 122cm
In January 2019, La Ghirlandata was removed from display for a year-long conservation project to restore the painting and its original medallion frame.
The conservation treatments were funded by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project, which provides grants to non-profit museums to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art that are in danger of degeneration, including those designated as national treasures.
Rossetti painted this intensely personal picture whilst staying at Kelmscott Manor (the house he part-owned with his friend William Morris) during a turbulent period in his life following his breakdown and suicide attempt in 1872. At the time, Rossetti was in love with Morris’ wife Jane, though the model here is Alexa Wilding, who features in many of his paintings, Jane and Alexa shared similar physical features. There are several features in the painting which allude to Rossetti’s feelings, such as the honeysuckle and roses around the top of the harp, indicating sexual attraction. While the harp itself represents music - a common metaphor for love and lovemaking. The angel heads at the top were painted from Jane’s ten-year-old daughter May.
Rossetti is also known for his innovative frame design, of which this is an excellent example. Coupled with its painting, it is an important survivor from his later period.
The painting came into the City’s collection in 1927 and had not been comprehensively restored or researched since. The paint film was vulnerable to loss, and the frame was weak and susceptible to damage. Both painting and frame were compromised by dirt, discoloured coatings, and old restoration techniques.
The project included full structural and aesthetic treatment, and a comprehensive technical examination of both painting and frame. The aim was to return Rossetti’s masterpiece to its full intensity and power, supported by an enhanced understanding of the artist’s techniques, to be appreciated by the widest possible audience.
The project was successfully completed and the painting was re-hung on 30 January 2020.
Funding for the conservation of this artwork was provided through a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.