Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Arthur's Tomb, a watercolour

England, AD 1855 (later mistakenly inscribed 1854)

A scene from Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur Book XXI

Rossetti (1828-1882) was fascinated by Sir Thomas Malory's fifteenth-century tales of King Arthur and his Knights. He declared the Le Morte d'Arthur and the Bible to be 'the two greatest books in the world'. This scene shows the last meeting of Lancelot and Queen Guenevere over the cuckolded king's tomb. Rossetti has superimposed two locations in Malory's tale for dramatic effect. The lovers actually bid farewell at Guenevere's nunnery in Almesbury, while Arthur was buried at Glastonbury.

The moral message is emphasized by the snake in the grass, intended to remind us of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. With a sense of irony Rossetti has depicted scenes of better days at Camelot on the base of the tomb, of the royal couple rewarding Lancelot, and the Holy Grail appearing above the Round Table.

Arthur's Tomb was commissioned by the critic John Ruskin, who thought it clumsy: ‘not my pet drawing…the Launcelot is so funnily bent under his shield, and Arthur points his toes so over the tomb, that I dare not show it to Anti-Pre-Raphaelites'. Many critics objected to what they perceived as the pre-Raphaelite's lack of skill in drawing figures, but Ruskin championed their attempts to imitate the style of early Italian artists before Raphael and especially their truthfulness to nature.

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More information


L. Parris (ed.), The Pre-Raphaelites-1 (London, Tate, 1984)

Sir Thomas Malory, Le morte dArthur (Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1996)

J.A Gere, Pre-Raphaelite drawings in the (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Height: 240.000 mm
Width: 382.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1982-6-19-23



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