Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1862, died Elizabeth Siddal.

Siddal was an artistís model, who sat for the Pre-Raphaelite painters and whose image occurs extensively in Victorian painting.   

Siddal was considered by the Pre-Raphaelites as the epitome of feminine beauty. She had a tall figure, red coppery hair and an elongated neck, which Holman-Hunt considered to be particularly erogenous. She sat for all of Rossettiís early paintings of women and is particularly famous for being the subject of Millaisí Ophelia.  

When posing for Ophelia, Siddal was obliged to lie in a bathtub full of water to simulate the drowned heroine. The water was heated by oil lamps but, during the sitting, they went out and the water became cold. Millais did not notice and Siddal did not complain, but after the session she developed tuberculosis and never recovered her health. 

Siddal became romantically involved with Rossetti. They had a ten-year engagement but Rossetti did not have the courage to marry her. He did however continue to paint her and prevented her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelites. The culmination of Rossettiís work was Beata Beatrix in the year of her death, which portrays Siddal as Danteís heroine Beatrice.  

Frustrated by Rossettiís unwillingness to marry her and depressed after a miscarriage, Siddal took to laudanum, the Victorian drug of choice on which she overdosed and died.  

Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in her coffin a notebook containing the only copies of his many poems. In 1869, Rossetti feared that he was going blind and could paint no longer. He turned again to poetry and, obsessed with his original works, applied for an exhumation order to recover the notebook from the coffin. This was granted and the book recovered.  

Rossetti published his older poems with the new, but they were not well received by the public or the critics. The works in the notebook could be deciphered, although they were difficult to read, as a coffin worm had bored through the pages.

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