Pre-Raphaelite Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
"Conception, my boy, fundamental brain work, is what makes all the difference in art." ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen, and Mihai Eminescu, all these famed persons were considered acclaimed mediums of the arts and literature, and with historical record, labeled as "tortured souls."
If by chance, one might visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, it's possible to grasp an immediate intrigue with the Pre-Raphaelite Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.and liken him to this group.
Aside from his lush artistic talents with painting and the pen, there's also a cloak of mystery, which shadows the artist's life, an evenly compelling story, telling of great heartache and misfortune.
Who Was Dante Gabriel Rossetti?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti . . . when letting his name roll over your tongue, you might wonder at such an odd name for an Englishman during the Victorian Era. True to its sound, the surname Rossetti (meaning Red Hair) originating from southern Italy, where his father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, and mother, Frances Polidori, whose scholarly families hailed from the mother country under political exile joined in union.
In 1828, Dante, as some would call him while others knew him as Gabriel, was born, and destined to take his father's path, and eventually excel and surpass his scholarly accomplishments at half his father's age.
Rossetti, the young man himself was destined to become a great name in the circle of arts, but he was not entirely sure which path he should take. Torn between two mediums, painting and poetry, he was more so inspired by the paint brush rather than the pen.
If not for the devoted friendship and consul of Ford Madox Brown, a historical painter who convinced Rossetti of his path. Dante might not have been the celebrated and revered artist that he esteems to date. Brown and Rossetti remained close confidants throughout their lives.
It all started in a prosperous London neighborhood on Gower street, in the home of a known child prodigy, namely John Everett Millais. Here was began a new movement. Three young men destined for greatness, formed a tight circle of friends whose passion centered on painting and poetry. Aside from Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt made up the founding three.
This newly formed brotherhood had a distinct purpose. The union wanted to create an atmosphere of artistic independence centered on developing free thought and interpretation of their own ideals yet each member remaining solely responsible to its cause.
Genuine Ideas to Express
Attentive to Nature and Expression
Sympathize With Previous Expressions of Art
To Produce Quality Art
From the beginning, the Brotherhood stood firm on Romanticism. With this ideal, the fellowship worshiped medieval culture and heightened its fascination with a mix of spiritualism and realism. Though Hunt and Millais preferred the path to realism, Rossetti remained captivated by Medievalism causing a sense of resentment but nonetheless did not cause the group any permanent damage due to their beliefs on freedom of thought and interpretation.
The Brotherhood remained a tight-knit network until around 1850 when famed writer Charles Dickens publicly denounced the group's credibility by flagrantly criticizing Millais at an exhibition in which he presented his work Christ in the House of His Parents. Dickens crass remarks about Millais' sister, Mary and her less than pleasant appearance, created a controversy surrounding the group's legitimacy.
Within three years the Brotherhood dissolved, leaving William Holman Hunt as the sole artist dedicated to its original aim and purpose, while the other members followed Rossetti's lead and shaped the Pre-Raphaelite vision into what it is widely known today with a romanticized setting and tone of ethereal, dream-stricken women caught up in a Libertine poses.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turn'd so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?
― Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John Everett Millais
William Holman Hunt
Elisabeth Siddal Immortalized as Beata Beatrix
"Love is the last relay and ultimate outposts of eternity." ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti
To Rossetti - feminine beauty exemplified fine art - and beauty was none other than the exquisite muses that he encapsulated in his paintings. He preferred the red-heads, the crimson flowers or the "stunners" as he so glorified his subjects.
Above all, Elisabeth Siddal was his first and foremost model, his obsession and the woman with whom he fell madly in love and eventually married. She had a wild-earthly tumble of flaming copper curls and a heart-shaped face likened to the goddess Venus. Though after Siddal's tragic passing, no other woman muse had captured his heart or passion than Elisabeth who left him a tortured soul. Full of grief and remorse, Rossetti created a masterpiece, immortalizing Elisabeth and naming the work Beata Beatrice, a haunting memorial to his wife's final hours.
The Other Stunners
After his wife's untimely death, Rossetti continued on with his painter's ambition and found inspiration in his next muse, Fanny Cornforth. Though unconventional for its day, the painter and his muse lived together despite social norms where they worked together on over 60 portraits.
Although Rossetti lived with Fanny, he still used other models for his inspiration. One muse in particular, Jane Morris was the wife of a friend and textile artist, William Morris. Rossetti and Jane carried on an unusual friendship that ran deep and emotional although purportedly platonic. Known for her incredible figure, Rossetti considered Jane the perfect model and the epitomy of his Pre-Raphaelite vision.
Other notable models used for Rossetti's painting included his own sister, Christina Rossetti, Annie Miller, Marie Spartali Stillman and Alexa Wilding.
Jane Burden Morris
Marie Spartali Stillman
Rossetti Greatest Works
- The Day Dream (1880) Jane Morris
- Lady Lilith (1867) Fanny Cornforth
- La Ghirlandata (1873) Alexa Wilding
- Water Willow (1871) Jane Morris
- A Vision of Fiammetta (1878) Maria Spartali Stillman
- Pia de' Tolomei (1868) Jane Morris
- A Sea-Spell (1875) Alexa Wilding
- Proserpine (1874) Jane Morris
- Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) Christina Rossetti
Rossetti in His Later Years
"Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell."
In 1872, Rossetti suffered a major mental breakdown due to depression and pressure from critics after the release of his first collection of poetry. Drugs and alcohol spiraled the painter into a descent of despair, which not even long time friend, Jane Morris could help him. A few years later, he walked away from everything, everyone and for the next decade he lived the life of a recluse in his home at Cheyne Walk. After a long standing battle with Brights Disease, it is believed that the famed painter tried to medicate his pain with a combination of drugs and alcohol, which most likely caused his death on Easter Sunday, 1882.
Drawing of Rossetti Lying in Repose
Final Resting Place
All Saints Cemetery
- Rossetti Archive Paintings, Drawings, and Designs Exhibit
- Christina Rossetti | Poetry Foundation
Of all Victorian women poets, posterity has been kindest to Christina Rossetti. Her poetry has never disappeared from view, and her reputation, though it suffered a decline in the first half of the twentieth century, has always been preserved to some
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