The Tate Gallery, London/Art Resource, NY

“Daughters of Jerusalem, swear to me that you will never awaken love until it is ripe” (Song of Songs 8:4). The daughters gather around the beloved in Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1865/6 oil painting “The Beloved” (or “The Bride”) from the Tate Gallery, in London.

Throughout the poem, the woman frequently instructs these women in the ways of love. Bible scholars have variously identified the daughters as guests at the couple’s wedding, members of the royal harem or, simply, local Jerusalem girls. For Alter, they are representatives of the social world who can have no real understanding of the lovers’ private realm.

Artist Rossetti linked the beloved and the daughters with the princess bride of Psalm 45 and her virgin attendants. In the painting’s handcrafted frame (not shown), he carved lines from both poems, taken from the King James Bible: “My Beloved is mine and I am his. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine [Song of Songs 2:16, 1:2]. She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework: the virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company, and shall be brought unto thee [Psalm 45:14].”