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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was a cofounder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His works show an impassioned, mystic imagination in strong contrast to the banal sentimentality of contemporary Victorian art.

Born on May 12, 1828, of Anglo-Italian parentage, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was steeped throughout childhood in the atmosphere of medieval Italy, which became a major source of his subject matter and artistic inspiration. After 2 years in the Royal Academy schools he worked briefly under Ford Madox Brown in 1848.

Shortly after Rossetti joined William Holman Hunt's studio later that year, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed, in Hunt's words, "to do battle against the frivolous art of the day." An association of artists so varied in artistic style, technique, and expressive spirit as the Pre-Raphaelites could not long survive, and it was principally owing to Rossetti's forceful, almost hypnotic personality that the Brotherhood held together long enough to achieve the critical and popular recognition necessary for the success of its crusade.

His Paintings

Rossetti did not have the natural technical proficiency that is evident in the minute detail and brilliant color of a typical Pre-Raphaelite painting, and his early oil paintings, the Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and the Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850), were produced only at the expense of great technical effort. In the less demanding medium of watercolor, however, Rossetti clearly revealed his intense, compressed imaginative power. The series of small watercolors of the 1850s culminates in such masterpieces as Dante's Dream (1856) and the Wedding of St. George and the Princess Sabra (1857), characteristic products of Rossetti's inflamed sensibility, with typically irrational perspective and lighting, glowing color, and forceful figures.

In almost all his paintings of the 1850s Rossetti used Elizabeth Siddal as his model. Discovered in a hatshop in 1850, she was adopted by the Brotherhood as their ideal of feminine beauty. In 1852 she became exclusively Rossetti's model, and in 1860 his wife. Beset by growing melancholy, she committed suicide 2 years later. Rossetti buried a manuscript of his poems in her coffin, a characteristically dramatic gesture which he later regretted. Beata Beatrix (1863), a posthumous portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, the Beatrice to his Dante, is one of Rossetti's most deeply felt paintings: it is his last masterpiece and the first in a series of symbolical female portraits, which declined gradually in quality as his interest in painting decreased.

His Poetry

Although early in his career poetry was for Rossetti simply a relaxation from painting, later on writing gradually became more important to him, and in 1871 he wrote to Ford Madox Brown, "I wish one could live by writing poetry. I think I'd see painting d——d if I could… ." In 1861 he published his translations from Dante and other early Italian poets, reflecting the medieval preoccupations of his finest paintings. In 1869 the manuscript of his early poems was recovered from his wife's coffin and published the next year.

Rossetti's early poems under strong Pre-Raphaelite influence, such as "The Blessed Damozel" (1850; subsequently revised) and "The Portrait," have a sensitive innocence and a strong mystical passion paralleled by his paintings of the 1850s. As his interest in painting declined, Rossetti's poetic craftsmanship improved, until in his latest works, such as "Rose Mary" and "The White Ship" (both included in Ballads and Sonnets, 1881), his use of richly colored word textures achieves a sumptuous grandeur of expression and sentiment.

At his death on April 9, 1882, Rossetti had reached a position of artistic prominence, and his spirit was a significant influence on the cultural developments of the late 19th century. Although his technique was not always the equal of his powerful feeling, his imaginative genius earned him a place in the ranks of English visionary artists.

Further Reading

The most recent work on Rossetti is G. H. Fleming, Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1967), a detailed study of his relations with the Brotherhood, which like Oswald Doughty's A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1949; 2d ed. 1960) is a general biography, not a specialized work on the paintings. Fundamental on the Pre-Raphaelites is William Holman Hunt's firsthand account, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (2 vols., 1905). Also important are Robin Ironside, Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1948); T. S. R. Boase, English Art, 1800-1870 (1959); and John Dixon Hunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination, 1848-1900 (1968).

Additional Sources

Ash, Russell. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, New York: H.N. Abrams, 1995.

Dobbs, Brian. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: an alien Victorian, London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1977.

Faxon, Alicia Craig. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Nicoll, John. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, New York: Macmillan, 1976, 1975.

Waugh, Evelyn. Rossetti, his life and works, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1978. □

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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Born: May 12, 1828
London, England
Died: April 9, 1882
Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England

English painter and poet

The English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a cofounder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a band of painters that reacted against unimaginative and traditional historical paintings. His works show a passionate imagination, strongly contrasting Victorian art which was popular during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Childhood

Born on May 12, 1828, in London, England, of English-Italian parents, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was surrounded throughout his childhood in the atmosphere of medieval Italy, which drew heavily from art and literature from the sixth to fifteenth centuries. This influence became a major source of his subject matter and artistic inspiration later in his career. As a child, almost as soon as he could speak, he began composing plays and poems. He also liked to draw and was a bright student. After two years in the Royal Academy schools he studied briefly under Ford Madox Brown in 1848.

Shortly after Rossetti joined William Holman Hunt's studio in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed, in Hunt's words, "to do battle against the frivolous [silly] art of the day." An association of artists so varied in artistic style, technique, and expressive spirit as the Pre-Raphaelites could not long survive, and it was principally owing to Rossetti's forceful, almost hypnotic personality that the Brotherhood held together long enough to achieve the critical and popular recognition necessary for the success of its mission.

Rossetti's paintings

Rossetti did not have the natural technical talent that is seen in the small detail and brilliant color of a typical Pre-Raphaelite painting, and his early oil paintings, the Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and the Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850), were produced only at the expense of great technical effort. In the less demanding technique of watercolor, however, Rossetti clearly revealed his imaginative power. The series of small watercolors of the 1850s produced such masterpieces as Dante's Dream (1856) and the Wedding of St. George and the Princess Sabra (1857).

In almost all of Rossetti's paintings of the 1850s he used Elizabeth Siddal as his model. Discovered in a hat shop in 1850, she was adopted by the Brotherhood as their ideal of feminine beauty. In 1852 she became exclusively Rossetti's model, and in 1860 his wife. Struggling with growing depression, she killed herself two years later. Rossetti buried a manuscript of his poems in her coffin, a characteristically dramatic gesture which he later regretted. Beata Beatrix (1863), a posthumous portrait (portrait done after her death) of Elizabeth Siddal is one of Rossetti's most deeply felt paintings. It is one of his last masterpieces and the first in a series of symbolic, female portraits, which declined gradually in quality as his interest in painting decreased.

Rossetti's poetry

Although poetry was simply a relaxation from painting early in Rossetti's career, writing later became more important to him, and in 1871 he wrote to fellow painter Ford Madox Brown, "I wish one could live by writing poetry." In 1861 he published his translations from Dante (12651321) and other early Italian poets, reflecting the medieval obsessions of his finest paintings. In 1869 the manuscript of his early poems was recovered from his wife's coffin and published the next year.

Rossetti's early poems under strong Pre-Raphaelite influence, such as "The Blessed Damozel" (1850; later revised) and "The Portrait," have an innocence and spiritual passion paralleled by his paintings of the 1850s. As his interest in painting declined, Rossetti's poetry improved, until in his later works, such as "Rose Mary" and "The White Ship" (both included in Ballads and Sonnets, 1881), his use of richly colored word textures achieves fantastic expression and feeling.

Rossetti died on April 9, 1882, in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England. Rossetti had reached a position of artistic respect, and his spirit was a significant influence on the cultural developments of the late nineteenth century. Although his technique was not always the equal of his powerful feeling, his imaginative genius earned him a place in the ranks of England's most forward-thinking artists.

For More Information

Ash, Russell. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1995.

Bass, Eben E. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter. New York: P. Lang, 1990.

Dobbs, Brian. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Alien Victorian. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1977.

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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (dăn´tē gā´brēəl rōsĕt´ē), 1828–82, English poet and painter; son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti. He was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelites. In addition to attending the Royal Academy he studied painting briefly with Ford Madox Brown. In 1848 he became acquainted with W. Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais and with them formed the brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites. In an effort to spread their ideas the group published in 1850 a short-lived magazine, the Germ, edited by Rossetti's brother William Michael Rossetti (1829–1919). In it was printed "The Blessed Damozel" by Dante Gabriel, written when he was 19 and considered by many to be his best poem. In 1851, John Ruskin championed the Pre-Raphaelites, and shortly thereafter made an arrangement with Rossetti to buy all of Rossetti's paintings that pleased him; thus, Rossetti became financially solvent. In 1860 he married his model Elizabeth Siddal, a former milliner's assistant whom he loved and had been more or less engaged to for nearly 10 years. Melancholic and tubercular, she took an overdose of laudanum and died in 1862. Rossetti, in a fit of guilt and grief, buried with her a manuscript containing a number of his poems. Some years later he permitted her body to be exhumed and the poems recovered. The first edition of his collected works appeared in 1870. The last years of his life were marked by an increasingly morbid state of mind (he became addicted to alcohol and chloral), and for a time he was considered insane. Although he began his career as a painter, Rossetti's lasting reputation rests upon his poetry. He never really mastered the technique of painting, and although his pictures are extremely sensuous, they are also somewhat two-dimensional. His best artistic efforts are his drawings, particularly the pen-and-ink portraits of his mother, his sister, and his wife. Almost inseparable in tone and feeling from his paintings, his poetry is noted for its pictorial effects and its atmosphere of luxurious beauty. Although there is always passion in his verse, there is also always thought. He was a master of the sonnet form, and his sonnet sequence "The House of Life" is one of his finest works. His other notable works include the ballad "Sister Helen" and the dramatic monologues "Jenny" and "A Last Confession." His translations from the Italian appeared as Dante and His Circle (1861). There are examples of his paintings in the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in many collections in England and the United States.

See his poems (ed. by O. Doughty, 1957); biographies by O. Doughty (2d ed. 1963), E. Waugh (1928, repr. 1969), and A. Faxon (1989); studies by S. A. Brooke (1908, repr. 1964), G. H. Fleming (1967), R. S. Fraser, ed. (1972), J. Rees (1981), and D. G. Riede (1983).

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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882)

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882)

English author and painter Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, commonly known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was born in London, May 12, 1828. His father was an Italian who had settled in England.

While yet a boy, Rossetti manifested artistic talent, and accordingly was sent to study drawing under John Sell Cotman, Shortly afterward he entered the Royal Academy Schools. In 1848, he commenced working in the studio of Ford Madox Brown, during which time he began to show himself a painter of distinct individuality, while simultaneously he made his first essays in translating Italian literature into English and became known among his friends as a poet of rare promise.

Meanwhile, however, Rossetti was really more interested in painting rather than writing, and soon after leaving Brown's studio he brought about a memorable event in the history of English painting by founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a body consisting of seven members, whose central aim was to render precisely and literally every separate object figured in their pictures. Leaving his father's house in 1849, Rossetti went to live at Chatham Place, Blackfriars Bridge, London, and during the next ten years his activity as a painter was enormous.

The year 1860 was a notable one in his career, as it marked his marriage to Eleanor Siddal. The love between the pair was of an exceptionally passionate order, and from it sprang Rossetti's later sonnet sequence called The House of Life, published in 1881. However, Eleanor died in 1862. The loss of his wife preyed upon him persistently; he was tortured by insomnia and, in consequence, began to take occasional doses of the drug chloral. Gradually this practice developed into a habit, and it soon became evident that his death was imminent unless he gave up his addiction to the drug. He died April 9, 1882, at Birchington, near Margate, and his remains were interred in the cemetery there.

Rossetti had a marked bias for mysticism in various forms. William Bell Scott, in his Autobiographical Notes (2 vols., 1892), told how the poet became at one time much enamored of table-turning. His temperament was undoubtedly a very religious one, and once toward the close of his life he declared that he had "seen and heard those that died long ago."

A belief in the possibility of communicating with the dead may have induced him on his wife's death to have some of his love poems enclosed in her coffin. Whatever the truth of his poems, it is by his painting rather than by his poetry that Rossetti holds a place as a great mystic, for despite his fondness for precise handling, most of his pictures are essentially of a mystical nature. They embody the scenes and incidents beheld in dreams in a manner similar to the work of William Blake.

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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828–82). Poet and painter. Rossetti was born in London, the son of an Italian refugee. Taught drawing by Cotman, he also worked with Ford Madox Brown, before coming under the guidance of Holman Hunt in 1848. His first major work, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, was also the first to bear the initials PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood). He soon moved away from brotherhood principles to follow what Millais called ‘his own peculiar fancies’, his best painting being done during his association with the model Elizabeth Siddal, whom he married in 1860. In 1857, following a suggestion by John Ruskin, Rossetti and others including William Morris and William Burne-Jones were involved in the decoration of the Oxford Union. Technical difficulties caused the paintings to degrade quickly. At the end of his life, which was marred by ill-health, Rossetti lived virtually as a recluse.

June Cochrane

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Rossetti, Gabriele

Gabriele Rossetti (gäbrēĕ´lā rōsĕt´ē), 1783–1854, Italian poet and critic; father of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and of Christina Rossetti. Exiled in 1821, he fled first to Malta, where he stayed for three years, and then to England, where he lived until his death. There he wrote patriotic and liberal verse in Italian and a curious study attempting to show that Dante had written as spokesman for a vast, secret, ritualistic society opposed to tyranny. He was professor of Italian at King's College, London, from 1831 until he retired in 1845. His long romantic poem Il veggente in solitudine [the seer in solitude] was published in 1846 and his autobiography in 1849.

See R. D. Waller, The Rossetti Family (1932).

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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828–82) English poet and painter. A founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he developed a style of medieval Romanticism after the group dispersed. His lush style is evident in idealized portraits of women, such as Beata Beatrix (c.1863), which were often modelled on his wife, Elizabeth Siddal. Rossetti's poetry includes Ballads and Sonnets (1881). He died of drug and alcohol addiction.

http://www.tate.org.uk

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