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Restoration of La Ghirlandata

painting of a red-haired woman by Rosetti

‘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 87 cm
Medallion Frame, c.1873
Wood, gesso and gold leaf, 156 x 122 cm

La Ghirlandata and its medallion frame have been removed from display for conservation in the Gallery’s painting and frame conservation studios. The conservation treatments are being 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.

La Ghirlandata was removed from display in January 2019 for a year-long conservation project to restore the painting and its original medallion frame.

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 has not been comprehensively restored or researched since. Currently the paint film is vulnerable to loss, and the frame is weak and could easily be damaged. Both painting and frame are compromised by dirt, discoloured coatings, and old restoration techniques.

The project will include full structural and aesthetic treatment, and a comprehensive technical examination of both painting and frame. The aim is 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.

Bank of America

Funding for the conservation of this artwork is being provided through a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

16 August 2019
Last Modified:
16 January 2020