ABSTRACT

After the sale of Rossetti’s painting Bocca Baciata (Plate 11) to George Boyce, Rossetti’s friend Arthur Hughes imagined that the new owner of the painting would “kiss the dear things lips away.”2 Hughes’s image of Boyce consuming the painting he had purchased raises the central concern of this chapter: the tension between the aestheticism of Rossetti’s floral portraits of the 1860s and Victorian discourses of consumerism, expressed in this case with an overly literal metaphor of consumption. This well-known anecdote also articulates the correlation between looking and consuming that inevitably enters into Victorian discourses regarding the representation of women by, and ostensibly for, men. Looking and consuming, looking and desiring, looking and owning: spectatorship during this period seems a conduit to sexual power, facilitating an aggressive act of possession without recourse to responsibility of any kind. Men’s spectatorship also affords protection, distance, and the disengagement from what is perceived as dangerous feminine sexuality.3 For the price of Bocca Baciata, George Boyce takes ownership of his

visual fantasy; no longer to be denied, his consumption of the object of his desire is limitless. This anecdote is symbolic of the wider Victorian discourse that, in taking the woman as object and making her available for purchase, realizes an anxiety that threatens to make every woman somehow available for purchase. However, while Victorian women are readily available for consumption through a variety of media, the privileged man remains a shadowy voyeur whose absent presence nevertheless facilitates and accompanies the representation of women. A reconsideration of the dynamic of absence and presence constituted through the relationship between spectator and image, and articulated through the series of intertextual works Rossetti produced during the 1860s, is one of the central concerns of this chapter.