Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

St John comforting the Virgin at the foot of the cross (After the Ninth Hour)

Details
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
St John comforting the Virgin at the foot of the cross (After the Ninth Hour)
signed with monogram and dated '1862' (lower right)
pencil and watercolour with bodycolour and gum arabic on paper laid on linen
14 1/8 x 11 7/8 in. (35.8 x 30.1 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 1 October 1973, lot 84 (1,400 gns to Maas).
with The Maas Gallery, London, 1973, where purchased by the present owner.
Literature
V. Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné, Oxford, 1971, vol. 1, p. 58, under no. 104.
W.E. Fredeman et al (eds.), The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Cambridge, 2002-10, vol. II, pp. 472-3.

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Lot Essay

Even Rossetti seldom achieved the degree of emotional intensity that this sombre composition exhibits. The scene is set shortly after Christ’s death, which all four Gospels agree took place ‘about the ninth hour’. St John, Christ’s beloved disciple to whose care he commits his mother from the cross, attempts to comfort her as she clings to the feet of her dead son is a paroxysm of grief. Three of the holy women who were present at the crucifixion are seen in the distance to the right, one of them waving a piece of cloth to scare off a flock of ravens.

The story of the Virgin’s distress at the crucifixion and St John’s care for her after the dreadful event, told, uniquely in his Gospel, ch. 19, haunted Rossetti from an early date. He touched on it in his poem 'Ave' of 1849, and he explored it further in a group of pencil drawings about 1852 (Surtees, op. cit,. nos. 51, 51A and 52, pls. 40-42). By 1853, moreover, he was considering painting a scene inspired by St John’s statement that after Christ’s death he took the Virgin ‘into his own home’. Mary in the House of St John was intended for Francis MacCracken, a Belfast shipping agent, and John Ruskin was promoting the commission – significantly, since this was the moment when he was encouraging Rossetti to paint Biblical subjects and thus realise his great objective of seeing Pre-Raphaelite principles applied to the most sublime themes. Nothing came of the scheme at the time, but watercolour versions of the design were painted in 1858 and 1859, the first for Lady Trevelyan (Bancroft Collection, Delaware), the second for another of Rossetti’s female patrons, Ellen Heaton of Leeds (Tate Britain).

Executed in 1862, the present picture is a watercolour version of a subject already treated in a pencil drawing of c. 1852 but given the form seen here in a fine pen and ink study datable to c. 1857-8 (fig. 1). Long missing and only resurfacing at Christie’s in 1973, the watercolour does not have a separate entry in Virginia Surtees’ catalogue raisonné of Rossetti’s work, published two years earlier. She did, however, note a reference to it in a letter the artist wrote to Ellen Heaton on 28 May 1862: ‘I write according to promise to tell you that I have now 2 watercolour drawings finished: - ‘’After the Ninth Hour’’, which you saw begun…’

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