Il Barbagianni by Valentine Cameron Prinsep, 1863
This painting might be a posthumous tribute to the renowned Pre-Raphaelite model Lizzie Siddal, the wife of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was a good friend of Prinsep. The above artwork was painted a year after Lizzie’s death in 1862.
from the Beautiful Necessity:
“The artwork features a barn owl, a creature who is considered a symbol of death in many cultures. The Barn Owl in particular is associated with death, and is sometimes called the Death Owl for this reason.
The plant in the corner appears to be either an orange or a pomegranate tree. The orange tree was a symbol of true love and marriage. Prinsep also chose to pose Lizzie in a position that seems to intentionally show her wedding ring on her left finger.
For all these reasons, I would speculate that Prinsep painted this artwork as a posthumous memoir to Lizzie, but also as a comfort to her widower, his good friend Rossetti. The symbolism emphasizes her devotion as a true loving wife, and the calm with which she embraces the symbol of death shows that she wasn’t afraid of her own passing. What a beautiful symbol of comfort from one genius friend to another! “