Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti's haunting depiction of Proserpine is both beautiful and symbolic. Rossetti was obviously inspired by the story of Proserpine (which is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Persephone), a story which is one of the most memorable of the Classical myths.
In mythology, Proserpine was the daughter of Ceres. The maiden goddess was abducted by Pluto (who was the ruler of the dark Underworld). According to some versions of the tale, after Proserpine was transported to the realm of Pluto, she made the mistake of eating the seeds of a pomegranate. By consuming pomegranate seeds, Proserpine was bound to dwell in the Underworld for at least part of the year.
In the painting, Proserpine is represented holding a pomegranate. Clearly, the fruit has been partially consumed, for the rich red inside of the pomegranate is visible. It is interesting to note that the model for this compelling image was the 'stunner' Jane Morris. Jane was the wife of Rossetti's friend and fellow artist William Morris, and there is much evidence to prove that Rossetti was more than a bit in love with his beautiful model. It is possible that Rossetti, by portraying Jane as Proserpine, was making a subtle (or not so subtle, as the case may be) reference to her marriage to Morris.
For More Information
An article about Proserpine (Persephone) in Classical mythology is available at Mythography.
David Rodgers has written this informative and engaging book about the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The book, which is part of the Phaidon Colour Library series, features many of Rossetti's most memorable paintings, including his Beata Beatrix and The Blessed Damozel.
This lovely book by Andrea Rose captures the essence of Pre-Raphaelite art using a series of images from several artists. Paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and many other artists are presented in full color, with intriguing commentaries.