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Charles Dante Rossetti is an English poet, painter and translator. He was
born to a family of an Italian political immigrant Gabriel Rossetti, poet,
scholar and revolutionary. There were three more children in the family:
Maria (1827-76) who became an Anglican nun and author of a literary commentary
Shadow of Dante
; William Michael (1829-1919), critic, civil servant
and Pre-Raphaelite historian, and Christina Georgina (1830-94), English
poet. The household was artistic and more Italian than English.
Rossetti began his training in 1841 in Sass’s Drawing School; in 1846 he
was accepted by the Royal Academy Antique School in London. Then he persuaded
Ford Madox Brown to tutor him, but this was short-lived. In 1848, he became
a co-founder (with William Holman
Hunt and John Millais) of
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the painters of the trend turned away from
neo-classicism and its models of Greco-Roman antiquity and the High Renaissance,
and revived interest in the Middle Ages, especially in Gothic art.
Most of Rossetti’s work was produced in the spirit of this movement, despite
his leaving it at an early date. Many of his themes were taken from the
Old and New Testament, Dante,
or the medieval legends about the King Arthur and his knights, Malory's
d’Arthur in particular, and treated with strong overtones of symbolism.
In 1850, he met Elisabeth Siddal, who sat for
many of his pictures: The First Anniversary
of the Death of Beatrice: Dante Drawing the Angel (1853), Dante's
Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855), Beata
Beatrix (1864-1870) and for some by Hunt and Millais’s Ophelia,
and whom he married in 1860 after a fraught and prolonged courtship. Already
an invalid, she died in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum. Although it
was an accident, the thought that his wife had committed suicide haunted
Rossetti for the rest of his life.
He met Ruskin in 1854. Largely
because of Ruskin, Rossetti was gaining a reputation as the ‘leader’ of
the Pre-Raphaelites. He turned more and more in the direction of poetic
painting, which he emphasized by attaching sonnets to the frames of his
pictures. In 1861, The Early Italian Poets was published, translations
from 60 poets such as Dante and Cavalcanti. Rossetti's Poems appeared
in 1870. His wife’s death, however affected him deeply and his work took
a taint of pessimism and morbidity. Dante's
Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (1871), Proserpine
(1874). He fell into depression and attempted suicide in 1872. Nevertheless,
Sonnets with the sonnet sequence The House of Life and
King’s Tragedy appeared in 1881. In his later years Rossetti concentrated
on studies of single, allegorical female figures:
Vanna (1866), Mariana
(1870), La Ghirlandata (18730,
Day Dream (1880).
“At odds with Victorian morality, his work is lush, erotic and
medieval, romantic in spirit, and of abiding interest and fascination.”
Rossetti died on 9 April, Easter Sunday, 1882, of Bright’s disease.
Victorian Painting. by Christopher Wood. Bulfinch Press. 1999.
Gabriel Rossetti by Russell Ash. Harry N Abrams, 1995.
Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter by Eben E. Bass. Peter Lang
Gabriel Rossetti by Julian Treuherz, Liz Prettejohn, Edwin
Becker. Thames & Hudson, 2003.
Gabriel Rossetti by Alicia Craig Faxon. Abbeville Press, 1994.
Mr Rossetti: The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine 1878-1881
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Vivien Allen, Hall Caine. Sheffield Academic
British Artists: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tate British Artists)
by Lisa Tickner. Tate, 2004.