The main model for La Bella Mano was Alexa Wilding, and for the angel, May Morris. The washing of the hands is a symbol of purity as is the scallop shaped basin. The lemon tree and the iris are both symbols of virginity. All these form together to illustrate a series of sonnets by Giusto de' Conti, La Bella Mano. Rossetti added his own interpretation on the subject:
O lovely hand, that thy sweet dost lave
In that thy pure and proper element,
Whence erst the Lady of Love's high advent
Was born, and endless fires sprang from the wave: -
Even as her Loves to her their offerings gave,
For thee the jewelled gifts they bear; while each
Looks to those lips, of music-measured speech
The fount, and of more bliss than man may crave.
In royal wise ring-girt and bracelet-spann'd,
A flower of Venus' own virginity,
Go shine among thy sisterly sweet band;
In maiden-minded converse delicately
Evermore white and soft thou be,
O hand! heart-handsel'd in a lover's hand.