Trance and Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix

6 Nov

In the nineteenth century the state of trance posed a challenge to scientific logic by lending the appearance of death to a living body. Prior to the Victorian period, trances occurred as part of ‘Britain’s…tradition of prophetic preaching’,[1] wherein ‘[p]ious men, women, and children might lapse into multiple-day comas so deathlike that their funerals were ordered.’[2]

Trance as a spiritual occurrence is illustrated in nineteenth century works of art, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix (c.1864-70), painted as a memorial following the death of his wife, Elizabeth Siddal.

The painting’s depiction of a bird placing a poppy into the hands of the trance-like Beatrice ‘is a symbol of sleep and death and a reminder of Lizzie’s death from an overdose of laudanum’.[3] Hoping that the diagnosis was incorrect, Rossetti fantasised that Elizabeth was merely in a laudanum-induced reverie, stating that ‘the picture was “not at all intended to represent Death…but to render it under the resemblance of a trance”’.[4]

[1] Behlmer,Grave Doubts’, p. 206

[2] ibid, p. 206

[3] L. Tickner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Tate, 2003), pp.53-4

[4] Tickner, p.52, quoting D.G. Rossetti to Mrs Cowper-Temple, 26 March 1871, in E.W. Fredeman, (ed.) The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti , 9 vols., (Cambridge:, 2002-6), vol. 5, p.43


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