A NEW BBC drama series is celebrating the art and lives of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the influential British painters who rocked the Victorian art establishment.
But many viewers will be unaware that one of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings is on display in Bournemouth.
Venus Verticordia was created by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the artists featured in Desperate Romantics (BBC2, Tuesday).
It hangs in Bournemouth’s Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, which has been described as one of the most “fascinating and unique” museums in the world.
Venus Verticordia is believed to be the ancient goddess of love but the painting does not merely reflect sexual desire.
The title reminds the viewer that as “turner of hearts”, Venus also inspired Roman women to follow virtue and modesty.
She is partially nude, surrounded by roses and honeysuckle, holding an apple in one hand and an arrow in the other.
Flowers in Rossetti’s work are often symbolic – roses usually reflecting love, honeysuckle desire – and they are arguably the most stunning aspect of this painting.
Some say the figure evokes the Biblical Eve in the way she is holding an apple.
Then there is the arrow, suggestive of Cupid’s bow. The butterflies are thought to suggest transcience.
In the Victorian era, detractors accused the Pre-Raphaelites of being vulgar.
But they were widely admired after being championed by the eminent critic John Ruskin.
While many women in Victorian paintings had been portrayed as weak, submissive and mouse-like, Rossetti portrayed bold, striking and strong females who stand out beautifully – like Venus.
- The second part of Desperate Romantics is on BBC2 on Tuesday at 9pm.