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“Helen of Troy” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

"Helen of Troy" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“Helen of Troy” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“Helen of Troy” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti portrays the face that was said to have launched a thousand ships. In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world.

Rossetti depicts a beautiful woman shown in three-quarter length. Her golden robes and long flowing hair are painted in rich glowing tones.

The model’s name was Annie Miller, and her golden, curly locks of hair complement her golden-colored garment. She is a typical Rossettian type, with pale skin, red lips, and expressive eyes gazing into the distance. 

Legends of Helen of Troy’s beauty have inspired artists throughout history to represent her, frequently as the personification of ideal human beauty. Images of Helen start appearing in the 7th century BC.

Helen’s biography’s essential elements come from classical authors and Homer, who includes her in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Her story also reappears in Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid.

In Helen’s youth, a competition was held between her many suitors for her hand in marriage. The competition required all of her suitors to swear an oath promising to provide military assistance to the winning suitor if Helen were ever stolen from the victorious suiter.

King Menelaus of Sparta emerged victoriously, and she became the Queen of Sparta. 

When Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, visited Sparta, King Menelaus welcomed him with traditional Greek hospitality. He held a feast in Paris’ honor and invited him to stay as long as he wished.

Paris, however, betrayed the hospitality and instead seduced Helen and carried her off to Troy. This grievance initiated the oath from her previous suiters and precipitated the many obligations for military assistance.

These obligations and Ancient Greek political alliances resulted in the Achaeans setting out in a thousand ships to reclaim Helen from Troy in what became the decade-long Trojan War.

The legends of Helen during her time in Troy are contradictory. Ultimately, Paris was killed in action, and in Homer’s account, Helen was rescued and reunited with Menelaus.

In classical Greece art, her abduction by Paris or escape with him was a popular motif. In medieval illustrations, this event was frequently portrayed as a seduction. In Renaissance paintings, it was usually depicted as rape and abduction by Paris.

Rossetti has painted a contemplative face with symbolism to hint at what Helen is thinking and feeling. Her fingers are clasped around a pendant decorated with a fire emblem. One finger seems to point to what appears to be an image of a fire or a flame.

The painting’s composition has a background filled with a hazy representation of burning rooftops and spires, indicating that Helen is either standing with her back to the burning city or remembering or prophesizing Troy’s destruction.

She appears calm and detached, lost in thought in the vision or memory of the scene behind her. The apocalyptic thoughts can be read either as a premonition of what is to come or a regretful memory of past events.

Helen’s look may also include a lament for the loss of her lover or her husband.

Helen of Troy

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) was a British poet, illustrator, painter, and translator, who founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

Its sensuality and its medieval revivalism characterized Rossetti’s art. Rossetti’s personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.

The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy.

They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – Medieval Revivalism

A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Helen Of Troy

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

Trojan War

Frederick Sandys

Frank Dicksee

John Collier

William Dyce

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


“Wise to resolve, and patient to perform.”
– Homer


Photo Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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