In a letter to Mrs. Cowper-Temple, Rossetti explained Beata Beatrix :
“It must of course be remembered, in looking at the picture, that it is not at all intended to represent Death…but to render it under the resemblance of a trance, in which Beatrice seated at the balcony over-looking the City [Florence] is suddenly rapt from Earth to Heaven. You will remember how much Dante dwells on the desolation of the city in connection with the incident of her death, and for this reason I have introduced it, as my background, and made the figure of Dante and Love passing through the street and gazing ominously on one another, conscious of the event, whilst the bird, a messenger of death, drops a poppy between the hands of Beatrice. She sees through her shut lids, is conscious of a new world, as expressed in the last words of the Vita nuova… ‘That blessed Beatrice who now gazeth continually on His Countenance who is blessed throughout all ages.”
Cited in Ronald W. Johnson, “Dante Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix and the New Life,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 57, no. 4 (December 1975): 552.
Ronald Johnson comments on the parallels between Rosetti’s Beata Beatrix and Dante Alighieri’s The New Life (La Vita nuova, 1295):
“The correspondence of enlightenment, a raising of the soul, and a spiritual beatitude through love (even of a physical nature) for a beautiful woman is obvious. At base this correspondence is mysterious for Rossetti, as for Dante, and light with the color red serves as its symbol, almost tangibly in Beata Beatrix. In the works of both artists the beauty, the perfectability, and the salvation of the soul are ultimately conveyed. In Beata Beatrix this ultimate end for the soul appears as a vision within a vision.”
Ronald W. Johnson, “Dante Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix and the New Life,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 57, no. 4 (December 1975): 556.