Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Astarte Syriaca (1877);
Manchester Ciry Art
Gallery, UK

Even in near—modern times, Asherah, also known as Astarte, retained her grip on the Christian imagination, not least because of the fervent denunciations of the Old Testament prophets, known to every student of the Bible. Her image renewed its potency as a synibol of rebellion as late as the time of the Pre—Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828—82). 

Rossetti’s painting Astarte Syriaca romantically evokes the divine power of women, within the context of the nascent pan—European Symbolist Movement, and can at the same time be read as a covert denunciation of patriarchal Victorian Christianity. The painting carries other messages as well. It is a near—portrait of Janey Morris, wife of Rossetti's fellow Pre—Raphaelite William Morris (1834—96), with whom Rossetti was conducting an adulterous affair. The two male figures placed symmetrically in the background speak of the goddess’s—and by implication Janey’s—power to ensorcell men. She is therefore both an incarnation of the goddess of love and the personification of the Fatal Woman.

One fascinating aspect of Rossetti’s image, and of the other, closely similar paintings he made at this time, is that he simultaneously exalts the power of women and condemns it. The same theme can be found spelled out explicitly in some of the poetry that Rossetti wrote. 1





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© Copyright 2002 Northstar Gallery


                 1.  Chicago, Judy and Lucie-Smith, Edward (1999). Women and Art. Watson-Guptill Publications p26