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“In An Artist's Studio”

By Laura Chapnick

For my project, I created a collage featuring Christina Rossetti’s poem “In an Artist’s Studio.” The poem is concerned with the relationship between a male artist and his female muse who have come to be understood as Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his wife and muse Elizabeth Siddal.

In my project, I picked up on the critical tone of Rossetti’s poem. Siddal is represented as a passive object whereas DGR is represented as active. Yet, through a meta-poetic reading of the poem, Rossetti takes on an active role as poet. Thus, I decided to mimic Rossetti’s poetic through imagery. The poem can be read as a variation on the Petrarchan sonnet, a fixed form historically associated with male poets. The octave of the poem follows an abbaabba rhyme scheme; however, many of the rhymes read as partial rhymes. As well, whereas the sestet of most Petrarchan sonnets rhymes cdecde or cdccdc, the sestet in this poem follows a cdcdce pattern. Further, the sonnet form often presents a problem in its octave that is solved within its sestet. This poem does not follow this pattern. Instead, the problematic position women hold in the process of artistic production is answered through Rossetti’s manipulation of the sonnet form and ultimately dispels the male artist’s control over the female body.

Through imagery, I represented the ways in which Rossetti shatters the Petrarchan tradition. By literally ripping up four Petrarchan sonnets and using them to create the border of my collage, the Petrarchan tradition is broken, and put back together, piece by piece. Moreover, instead of using images of Siddal I decided to include DGR’s face to expose his motives as artist. By using two images of him, he becomes the object in view and the face that is repeated. Finally, I chose to create my collage on a canvas, as a response to the many canvases that appear in Rossetti’s poem. The female subject does not appear on my canvas, but rather a critique of the objectification of women in art.