Life And Art: Astarte Syriaca With Onlooker

Onlooker with Astarte Syriaca by Rossetti
The onlooker seemed a modern version of Venus in the picture

Venus gazes out of the picture, wearing the draped fabric and heavy curls we associate with the Pre-Raphaelite style. Rossetti, her painter, has chosen a pose that reminds us of Botticelli’s famous image of Venus on the shell. The painting’s title associates the Roman goddess with the older Astarte.

In the background, winged spirits carry torches, and the evening star, Venus, is shown between the setting sun and rising moon.

Watching in turn, I was struck by the synergy between the figure in the painting and the onlooker who seemed to be communing with her. Her emerald skirt, pinky-red hair, bare shoulders and silver backpack struck me as contemporary versions of elements in the picture. She added another layer of femininity and threw another era into the mix.

My photo was taken in the Manchester Art Gallery and is shared for the Discover prompt: Below, which was the onlooker’s viewpoint.

About the painting

Astarte Syriaca (1877) is an oil painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The model for Venus was Jane Morris, wife of William Morris (her daughter, May Morris, was model for the left attendant).
Alternative title: Venus Astarte

Rossetti wrote a sonnet to accompany the painting, which mentions ‘Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes’. Quite!

16 Replies to “Life And Art: Astarte Syriaca With Onlooker”

  1. Nice post and shot. The thought struck me, does the photo qualify as street art, I don’t know what other genre it would go in; assuming Misc. and Other are not genres. 🙂

  2. And after we’ve answered all of Laurie’s questions, above, I’d like some ideas on how to describe the green that Venus is wearing. It seems to change as I stare at it. I agree with Laurie about the narrative impulse — there’s a spell in the whole of this.

    1. When I was researching the post, I read about the Pre-Raphaelite’s colour palette being cobalt blue, ultramarine, emerald, madder and earth colours. A modern substitute for madder was suggested: alizarin crimson. I had not heard of that, so I looked it up – the lady’s hat is alazarin crimson. So I agree – strange magic was afoot.

      1. I think I had some passing acquaintance with alazarin crimson in my brief brush (so to speak) with watercolor. But never was I on friendly footing with it — or with any other color, for that matter. Color mystifies me. But I’m so glad to know of this palette — I think it’s the emerald in her wrap that is so compelling. Thank you!

        1. I remember when I was first told that green could be yellowish or blueish and thinking that sounded a bit daft, but eventually I came to quite enjoy colour. I would not make a great colour mixer though. There’s a skill to that.

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