Rossetti and the doppelgangers

A topic that I have been interested in for some time is the idea of the doppelgänger. And I’m not the only person to be intrigued by the notion of a mysterious double and what it might mean.

Image with the definition of the word doppelgänger

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was fascinated by the possibility of the doppelgänger, the seeing of which is supposedly a presentiment of death. This inspired some of his art and poetry. Below are his painting and drawing, How They Met Themselves. Medieval lovers in a wood, unexpectedly meeting their doubles, glowing supernaturally.

Painting and drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, How They Met Themselves

Doppelgänger imagery also occurs in Rossetti’s poems: Sudden Light, Even So, and Willowwood. He also admired the theme in the work of others – Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s, The Romaunt of Margaret and Edgar Allan Poe’s, Silence.

Sudden Light

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

I have been here before,
              But when or how I cannot tell:
          I know the grass beyond the door,
              The sweet keen smell,
    The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
              How long ago I may not know:
          But just when at that swallow’s soar
              Your neck turned so,
    Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
              And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
          Still with our lives our love restore
              In death’s despite,
    And day and night yield one delight once more?

Rossetti was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelites. A loose group of artists that have been known to employ remarkable likenesses in their work.

BELOW: Edward Burne-Jones’s The Golden Stairs. From a previous post you will know that the model has recently been confirmed as Dorothy Dene (born Ada Alice Pullen).

Edward Burne-Jones’s The Golden Stairs (Tate Britain).

BELOW: Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse (below), Manchester Art Gallery. In Greek mythology Hylas was one of the Argonauts (according to the Romans his father was Hercules and his mother was a nymph). The charming and handsome Hylas was kidnapped by the nymphs and vanished without a trace (watery death?). The women look remarkably similar – though I don’t know the name of the model.

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

Here is a famous painting (below). John Singer Sargent’s The Wyndham Sisters – Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tenant, 1899. Remarkably alike, but are they doppelgängers? No – they are related, sisters.

A final doppelgänger/double Victorian picture (below). The Travelling Companions (1862) – by Augustus Egg, covered in a previous post.

The Travelling Companions *oil on canvas  *65.3 x 78.7 cm  *1862

And here is a contemporary take on Egg’s painting (below):

Travelling Companions, after Augustus Leopold Egg (1999) by Glynn Porteous (1935–2003). Kirkleatham Museum, Yorkshire.

Travelling Companions, after Augustus Leopold Egg (1999) by Glynn Porteous (1935–2003). Kirkleatham Museum, Yorkshire.

If you can think of any more examples of Victorian doppelgängers in art, please let me know. A humorous related follow up to this post will appear soon.


BELOW: Brief Manchester City Gallery video on Hylas and the Nymphs.

BELOW: The Pre-Raphaelites on Pinterest (by The Long Victorian)


BELOW: Victorian doppelgangers on Pinterest (by The Long Victorian)

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