Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Study of a Young Girl (1850)
A drawing of a blonde women in a long white dress, facing forward to camera; hands are clasped in front, plain yellow background.


A variant of this description was originally published at The Rossetti Archive.

Scholarly Commentary


The drawing is a key document in the early development of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's ideas about how to represent the neo-platonic “dream maiden” that pervades the entire corpus of his work both literary and pictorial. The pertinence of this figure to that subject is underscored by the identification that has been made between the woman in this drawing and the “figura mistica” of Rossetti's seminal tale of 1849-50 “Hand and Soul.” Counting against that specific identification is the color of this girl's dress, which is not green, as is the dress of Chiaro's soul-maiden in Rossetti's story. Besides, we know that early in 1850 Rossetti made a drawing of Chiaro “in the act of painting his Soul.” This drawing was to be engraved for a fifth issue of The Germ (which never appeared). The drawing was engraved by Henry Chawner Shenton, but when Rossetti saw the proof on March 28th he was so unhappy with the result that he destroyed the plate (see William Michael Rossetti 1:155).

Nonetheless, although this drawing may not have been the drawing of 1850 mentioned by William Michael Rossetti, it belongs to that period and has the closest affinities with the “figura mistica” that Dante Gabriel Rossetti was contemplating at that time.

John Christian writes that, “In style the drawing belongs to a specific group of early composition drawings. . . . Characteristic features of all these drawings are the rather plain faces, with straight hair and the long noses noticed by William Michael Rossetti, and the drapery falling in crisp, angular folds" (11). He has in mind the Rossetti Drawings for Edgar Allan Poe's work: “Ulalume” and “The Raven,” as well as “The Sleeper.” Rossetti's figure of Mary in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and especially in Ecce Ancilla Domini! is comparable in point of the psychological tone.

Production History

There is some controversy about the date of this early drawing, which survives in the single copy that Dante Gabriel Rossetti gave to Madox Brown. It may have been executed as early as mid-1848 when Rossetti was working in Brown's studio, but the more likely date is perhaps 1850, after Rossetti returned from his trip to the continent with William Holman Hunt.

Ford Madox Brown is the chief authority for dating this drawing mid-1848, as John Christian points out in his discussion of the picture in the Christie's Sale Catalogue for 14 June 2005 (11). In arguing for a date of spring or early summer 1848 for the drawing, when Rossetti was working in Brown's studio, Christian observes that the figure bears some resemblance to the female figure in “Hand and Soul” but that story was written between September and December 1849. Besides, as Christian rightly points out, the style of this drawing and the others like it tempt one “to place them immediately after Rossetti's visit to Belgium with Hunt in the autumn of 1849 [when] he was overwhelmed by the ‘miraculous works,’ of Van Eyck and Memling” (12). Virginia Surtees suggests that the work should be given a later date, perhaps 1850, and that Rossetti gave it to Brown as a gift.


The drawing, as John Christian notes, is much in debt to the style of early Flemish painting. More particularly, “It is surely consciously modelled on those innumerable early Italian panels in which a figure is uncompromisingly etched against a flat gold ground (12).

Physical Description

Medium: Pencil and some body color against a flat gold ground.

Dimensions: 7 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.

Note: An inscription by Ford Madox Hueffer appears on the mount: “Sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti presented to Miss Elsie Martindale by Mr. Ford Madox Brown October 3rd 1893.”

Production Description

Production Date: 1848–1850?


Current Location: Mrs. Charles Lamb.

Note: Image is taken from the Christie's website.

Archival History: Ford Madox Brown; Elsie Martindale (Mrs. Ford Madox Hueffer); Mrs. Charles Lamb; Christie's sale June 14, 2005.

Works Cited

Christian, John. “Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Study of a Young Girl.” Christie’s Sale Catalogue, 2005.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Hand and Soul. London T. N. Foulis, 1910. 

Rossetti, William Michael, ed. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, with a Memoir. Vol 1. Ellis and Elvey, 1895. 

Surtees, Virginia. The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonné. Vol 2. Clarendon Press, 1971. 

MLA Citation:

McGann, Jerome. “Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Study of a Young Girl (1850).” Rossetti Archive Galleries. The COVE: The Central Online Victorian Educator, covecollective.org. [Here, add your last date of access to The COVE].

Associated Place(s)

Part of Group:


  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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