Lady Lilith

Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828–1882 Birchington-on-Sea)

Artist: Henry Treffry Dunn (British, Truro 1838–1899 London)

Date: 1867

Medium: Watercolor and gouache on paper

Dimensions: 20 3/16 X 17 5/16 in. (51.3 x 44 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1908

Accession Number: 08.162.1


Fascinated by women’s physical allure, Rossetti here imagines a legendary femme fatale as a self-absorbed nineteenth-century beauty who combs her hair and seductively exposes her shoulders. Nearby flowers symbolize different kinds of love. In Jewish literature, the enchantress Lilith is described as Adam’s first wife, and her character is underscored by lines from Goethe’s Faust attached by Rossetti to the original frame, “Beware . . . for she excels all women in the magic of her locks, and when she twines them round a young man’s neck, she will not ever set him free again.” The artist’s mistress, Fanny Cornforth, is the sitter in this watercolor, which Rossetti and his assistant Dunn based on an oil of 1866 (Delaware Art Museum).