Highgate Cemetery in London, England is a PHANTASTIC treasure of Victorian sculptural sepulchres. A recent visit confirmed my hopes and expectations, although I must say that the overly engineered tour was a bit heavy-handed and I wish it had been possible to just wander around freely. Since black and white photos of Highgate seem to do it the most justice, here is a visual tour of it as nineteenth century photographs might have depicted it.
The biggest regret was that the tour group was not taken to see the grave of Elizabeth Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelite muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which we were looking forward to with excitement. Rossetti is rumoured to have painted thousands of paintings of Siddal, whom he later married, including the sensual Beata Beatrix, and his sister Christina once described his obsession with this muse in verse. When she died in 1862, Rossetti buried his sole surviving copies of his poems with her, an act which he later regretted. Another regret that haunted him for the rest of his life was the fact that he had her exhumed so he could reclaim the poetry and publish it. It is said that her flowing red hair had somehow continued to grow after her death, and that the coffin was overflowing with it….
“One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.”
Christina Rossetti, In An Artist’s Studio, 1856