Pre-Raphaelite Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Updated on March 14, 2018
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Indie author of historical romance and paranormal novellas and a history buff.

Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

William Holman Hunt: Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1853)
William Holman Hunt: Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1853) | Source

"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.

Somber Rossetti

Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti | Source

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.

Best Friend

Ford Madox Brown 1858
Ford Madox Brown 1858 | Source

Millais Home

7 Gower Street, Camden:
7 Gower St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E, UK

get directions

Pre-Raphaelite Conception

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.

BrotherHood Doctrine

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.

Sudden Light

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

Sir John Everett Millais
Sir John Everett Millais | Source

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt 1853
William Holman Hunt 1853 | Source

Pre-Raphaelite Documentaries

Elisabeth Siddal Immortalized as Beata Beatrix

 Beata Beatrix 1864-1870
Beata Beatrix 1864-1870 | Source

"Love is the last relay and ultimate outposts of eternity." ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Bohemian Beauty

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.

Fanny Cornforth

Bocca Baciata (Lips That Have Been Kissed)  c.1859
Bocca Baciata (Lips That Have Been Kissed) c.1859 | Source

Jane Burden Morris

Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress)  c. 1868
Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress) c. 1868 | Source

Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927) 1869
Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927) 1869 | Source

Alexa Wilding

Veronica Veronese 1872
Veronica Veronese 1872 | Source

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

circa 1871
circa 1871 | Source

"Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell."

The End

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

Image from page 324 of "The Rossettis: Dante Gabriel and Christina;" (1900)  Cary, Elisabeth Luther, 1867-1936
Image from page 324 of "The Rossettis: Dante Gabriel and Christina;" (1900) Cary, Elisabeth Luther, 1867-1936 | Source

Final Resting Place

All Saints, Birchington. Kent - Grave of Dante Gabriel Rossetti
All Saints, Birchington. Kent - Grave of Dante Gabriel Rossetti | Source

All Saints Cemetery

All Saints, Birchington. Kent:
Church House, Kent Gardens, Birchington CT7 9RS, United Kingdom

get directions

Who is Your Favorite Pre-Raphaelite Artist?

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Submit a Comment

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR


    13 months ago from LOST IN TIME

    I've found that most of our famed writers of the past in some way lived a chaotic or tragic past ... I guess one with that amount of passion might live on the edge ... deal with the pressures of fame and emotional response to its burden. Glad you took the time to read and nice to meet you. Thank You

  • profile image


    13 months ago

    Thank you for posting this article. I have developed an interest in art these days after watching Venice in Fur, a very interesting movie which added to my interest in things like I have read about here. Of course, this is an area on which I want to start developing on later, for my blog readers to see the beauty of art both in design and writing.

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR


    13 months ago from LOST IN TIME

    Thank You! Yes ... I think for Rossetti depression ran in his family. His father and sister both struggled with it and as do many artists of different genres. The pressure to be accepted and to excel given expectations within family, of friends and a society which determines genius and talent is a tough situation to be in when all you really want is to love what you do without any burden of vulnerability to judgement or ridicule.

  • Fullerman5000 profile image

    Ryan Fuller 

    13 months ago from Louisiana, USA

    Very interesting and historic article. I am not much into the art scene, but I love learning new things and found this very unique and satisfying. I love the quote "Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell." I hate to see these historic artist always dealing with depression. Very good work. Thank you for sharing this.


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