Olga's Gallery

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Biography

Dante Gabriel Rossetti Portrait

Gabriel 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

A 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 Morte 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, Balladsand Sonnets with the sonnet sequence The House of Life and The King’s Tragedy appeared in 1881. In his later years Rossetti concentrated on studies of single, allegorical female figures: Monna Vanna (1866), Mariana (1870), La Ghirlandata (18730, The 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.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Russell Ash. Harry N Abrams, 1995.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter by Eben E. Bass. Peter Lang Publishing, 1990.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Julian Treuherz, Liz Prettejohn, Edwin Becker. Thames & Hudson, 2003.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Alicia Craig Faxon. Abbeville Press, 1994.

Dear Mr Rossetti: The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine 1878-1881 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Vivien Allen, Hall Caine. Sheffield Academic Pr, 2000.

Tate British Artists: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tate British Artists) by Lisa Tickner. Tate, 2004.