“In an Artist’s Studio”

In her poem “In an Artist’s Studio,” Christina Rossetti depicts a female model as the subject of the poem who longs to break free from being ensnared by the possessive and delusional male artist. As the poem begins, the repetition of the word “one” begins to indicate to readers that the painter views the model being painted as simply another “nameless girl” to add to his collection of portraits (1,2,6). She is just another “one selfsame figure” for the artist (2). By doing so, the model’s personality and character are being stripped away and replaced by vague titles such as “queen,” “saint,” and “angel” (5,7). And, as the poem progresses, the model appears to become more and more objectified. As we learn that the artist “feeds upon [the model’s] face by day and night,” the model’s humanity becomes more extracted from the poem as the artist is simply using her as a way to fulfill his fantasies and realize instant gratification (9).

The portrait of the female model fits in with the constant objectification of women in the Victorian period. The model is seen as a being without a voice or emotions, one simply there to be manipulated by a twisted male figure who desires to “feed” upon women and shape them into entirely aesthetic items for pleasure. In addition, by making the poem a sonnet, the traditional style of love poems, Christian Rossetti ironically exposes the warped perception of relationships during the Victorian period. And, the descriptions of the “nameless” female muse provided by Christina Rossetti lead readers to pity the women stuck in such an unsettling relationship. The model is a “saint, an angel,” and is as “fair as the moon and joyful as the light” (7,11). And, although the muse may be beautiful, the artist sees her only as the “mirror that gave back all her loveliness” does (4). In other terms, the artist is incapable of moving beyond the muse’s surface level beauty and seeing the deeper side of the women, just as the mirror can only reflect the model’s appearance.  Throughout her poem, Christina Rossetti knocks the traditional depiction of women of Victorian poetry and portrays a subject longing to be viewed as more than an aesthetically beautiful item.

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