Rossetti's inspiration for this painting was the 'Vita Nuova' (New Life), the Italian poet Dante's account of his idealised love for Beatrice, and of her premature death. The death of Beatrice is symbolised by a sudden spiritual transfiguration. A bird, a messenger of death, drops a white poppy between her open hands. The sundial's shadow rests on the figure nine, the number Dante connects mystically with Beatrice and her death. In the background the shadowy form of Dante gazes towards the figure of Love. Rossetti saw this work as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth Siddall, who had died in 1862.