Christina Rossetti

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What are three symbols in "In An Artist's Studio" and their significance to the theme?

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The famous poem "In the Artist's Studio" by Christina Rossetti highlights the tendency of male artists to objectify their models. It is worth noting that Rossetti herself sometimes modeled for paintings and that her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a painter. There are several symbols in the poem. Let's have a look at them, and then you can decide which three you think are most significant to the theme.

First of all, the mirror at the beginning of the poem that gives back the reflection of the loveliness of the model is symbolic of the perfection that the male artist is looking for. He is not observing the woman as she is, but as how he wants to see her.

The poem then lists four personifications of a beautiful woman: she can be seen as a queen, as an anonymous girl clothed in summer garments, as a saint, or as an angel. These are not realistic conceptions of women, but rather idealized symbols of what men perceive women to be.

In writing that "He feeds upon her face by day and night," Rossetti depicts the artist as a ravenous predator who is more intent on gratifying his own desires than on seeing the model as a real and sensitive human being.

The closing lines complete the symbolism of the model as an idealized object that is "fair as the moon and joyful as the light," who does not have "sorrow dim" but rather hope that shines bright. Rossetti makes it clear that this is not a realistic view of the model but a depiction of how the artist sees her: "Not as she is, but as she fills his dream."

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Really there is only one major symbol to focus on in this poem, and that is the woman that acts as the muse to the painter. It is obvious that this woman acts as a symbol as she stands for herself, but also, in the imagination of the painter, she stands for so much more, as "she fills his dream." In a sense, she is a blank canvas onto which he can impose his own male fantasies and desires, creating endless duplications of her face, but in different guises. Note how the poem tells us that:

Every canvass means

The same one meaning, neither more nor less.

Although the paintings of the woman cast her in a number of different roles, making her into a saint or an angel, what is similar is the way that the artist completely ignores the real woman in front of him and merely "feeds on her face" to produce his male representations of her. Thus the woman is a symbol of the way Victorian society and art treated women and in particular did not allow them to have their own identity.

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