Tracing, Inscribing and the Unfinished: Rossetti’s Visual/Textual Sketches or the Chaos of Hybrid Creation

Auteur / Author: 
Fanny GILLET (Independent scholar)
Mardi 23 Août 2011 - 10:15


Once a work of art has been completed, preliminary studies — especially the first sketches drawn by the artist — become traces of the imagination, the first fragments left for the spectator to discover. Indeed, as if in retrospect, we often come from work to sketch, from an easily accessible piece seen in museums or in books, to a more secrete and less visible one. But the very trace, sometimes fragile and evanescent, of the artist’s pencil on a page can then orientate our vision of the later work and appear as a proof of the artist’s design.

This genetic vision can in itself suggest the ambivalence of the sketch, as the latter helps us understand the work of art, thus filling our imagination, but may also develop into an imprint on the work, a screen in our mind. Such a screening effect is greatly emphasized when the sketch itself presents layers of images and texts, sketches and inscriptions. Three of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s compositional drawings will particularly constitute the focus of our analysis since they epitomize the chaotic and definitely visual/textual imagination at the very origin of Rossetti’s creation. Indeed, visual and textual elements coexist, merge, superimpose on the page and we must cope with the difficulty of apprehending these strange word and image wholes. The intersemiotic dimension of the subjects, one taken from Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, another obviously referring to a painting by Titian, further adds to the “surplus” as traces of artists of the past are conjured up in Rossetti’s hybrid creation.