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The 3 most famous redhead Pre-Raphaelite models 

I am sure you have all heard of the “feminist” poet Christina Rossetti. Christina Rossetti is famous for her romantic poems, in addition to her commitment to life-long independence. Unlike what was expected of women in the 1800s, Christina never married. Christina was unique for her time, and I guess that was genetic… Her oldest brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was quite something!

Dante Gabriel Rosetti was also the son of Gabriele Rossetti and Frances Polidori. He was a poet, illustrator, and painter. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 – at 20 years old. 

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artists who produced controversial paintings that depicted realism attached to biblical figures. However, as is quite evident, they were obsessed with painting redheaded models. 


Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal (1829-1862)

Lizzie Siddal is, in my opinion, the most famous of the redheaded models. Lizzie Siddal was the girl who nearly died from pneumonia after modelling in a bathtub for hours. While modelling for the ‘drowning Ophelia’ painting for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she was submerged in the cold water for several hours. 

She was an artist, model, and poet. To Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she embodied feminine beauty. Lizzie Siddal became Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s favourite model, and their on/off love story was inherent from their first meeting. 

For 10 years, the pair were engaged. Dante Gabriel Rossetti taught Lizzie Siddal to paint, and about Art History. Lizzie Siddal enrolled at Sheffield School of Art and was determined to make it as an independent artist. 



The next few years of her life remain a secret. While Dante Gabriel Rossetti was having several affairs, Lizzie Siddal turned dangerously ill. Dante Gabriel Rosetti rushed to her side and the pair married. 

However, their lifestyle and relationship soon turned toxic…

Both Dante and Elizabeth were addicted to the drug, laudanum, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti remained unfaithful. Due to her drug addiction, Lizzie Siddal suffered a stillborn birth and never recovered from her grief. Eventually, she overdosed on laudanum. It has been recorded that, at the time of her death, she was pregnant with her second child. 


Alexa Wilding (1847-1884)

Another favourite model of Dante Gabriel Rossetti was Alexa Wilding. She sat before the artist the most, compared to his other muses (including Lizzie Siddal). Alexa Wilding was paid by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood weekly, as they feared other artists would borrow her for her beauty. After years of modelling, she died of exhaustion and a splenic tumour. 


‘Venus Verticordia’ – (1864-1868)

The Pre-Raphaelite painting of Venus, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a semi-nude depiction of the Greek goddess Venus (also known as Aphrodite). As you may already know, Venus is associated with love and beauty. There is so much meaning in this painting, for instance, the roses represent love, the blue birds portray impending doom, and her flaming red hair embodies desire. 

The model of this image was (the favourite) Alexa Wilding – Dante Gabriel Rossetti altered her facial features to match the famous Venus.


Fanny Cornforth (1835-1909)

Fanny Cornforth is remembered as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s best female friend. Fanny Cornforth embraced physical pleasure in many paintings. Unlike Lizzie Siddal, Fanny Cornforth was curvaceous and represented laughter. The most famous painting of Fanny Cornforth is ‘Lady Lilith’. This picture, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, depicted Fanny Cornforth combing her long red hair. 

Fanny Cornforth eventually became Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s housekeeper, until she was moved to an asylum later on. Towards the end of her life, Fanny Cornforth was reported to have “senile mania, confusion, weak-mindedness and an inability to sustain a rational conversation, a poor memory and sleeplessness”. 


Fancy some more Pre-Raphaelite muses? Catch The Rossettis exhibition at Tate Britain until 24 September 2023.



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