Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dafato Team | Jun 13, 2024

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born May 12, 1828 in London and died April 10, 1882 in Birchington-on-Sea (Kent), was a British painter, poet, translator and writer.

He founded Pre-Raphaelitism in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais and was later the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by this movement including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work influenced not only European Symbolism and the Aesthetic movement. Rossetti's work is characterized by the sensuality of his works and the revival of medieval themes. His poetic activity was initially influenced by the work of John Keats. Later, his poems were characterized by the complex connection between thoughts and feelings, as can be seen especially in his sonnet The House of Life. Poetry and images are closely linked in Rossetti's work. He frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his paintings, and illustrated several poems as in Goblin Market, written by his sister Christina Rossetti. The artist's private life was deeply connected to his work, especially in his relationships with his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Burden.


Son of an Italian poet emigrated to London, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, and of Frances Polidori, Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti was born in London on May 12, 1828. His relatives call him Gabriel, but he himself puts his first name Dante (in homage to Dante Alighieri) first in his publications. He was the brother of Christina Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti and Maria Francesca Rossetti. Rossetti grew up in a lively household where many artists came to talk. During his childhood he read the Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. A polyglot, he translated several works from Italian into English throughout his career. His father took a great interest in Dante Alighieri, and the Vita Nova and the Divine Comedy were to be of major importance in his work. Sir Thomas Malory's poem Le Morte d'Arthur was also seminal and inspired Rossetti to draw on the theme of Arthurian legends.

The young Rossetti is described as calm, passionate and charismatic. Like all his relatives, he aspired to become a poet. He joined King's College School in 1837. He also wanted to become a painter, showing a great interest in Italian medieval art. He studied at Henry Sass's drawing academy from 1841 to 1845, then enrolled at the Royal Academy's Antiquarian School, which he left in 1848. He then became a pupil of the painter Ford Madox Brown, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. He met William Holman Hunt after Hunt painted The Eve of St. Agnes, illustrating a poem by John Keats. Rossetti himself was the author of a poem entitled The Blessed Damozel, written in the style of Keats (set to music by Debussy in the translation of G. Sarrazin). He thought that he and Hunt shared the same artistic and literary values, and that they could become friends. Indeed, together they developed the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which they founded, along with other artists such as John Everett Millais, in 1848. The group's intention was to reform English art by rejecting what they saw as a mercantile approach, adopted by the Mannerist artists who had succeeded Raphael, Michelangelo and the training regime introduced by Joshua Reynolds. They wished to recover the intensity of color and complexity of composition of the Italian Quattrocento and Flemish art.

Rossetti's early works show his desire for realism at the beginning of the movement. William Bell Scott said of the technique used for L'Enfance de la Vierge Marie (1849): "He painted in oil with watercolor brushes as lightly as if it had been watercolor...". Disappointed by the criticism of Ecce Ancilla Domini, exhibited in 1850 and "the increasingly hysterical reactions that greeted Pre-Raphaelitism" that year, Rossetti turned to the use of watercolor, producing works that could be sold privately. Although his work later gained the support of the famous art critic John Ruskin, Rossetti rarely exhibited.

Influence of religion

England experienced a religious revival in its practices and beliefs beginning in 1833. The Oxford Movement, also known as Tractarianism, which flourished during this period, advocated a restoration of lost Christian traditions. William Michael Rossetti notes that the services of the Anglican Church began to evolve with the birth of the "High Anglican Movement. Reverend William DodsworthWilliam Dodsworth was one of the actors of this change: he included the Catholic tradition of placing flowers and candles near the altar.

Rossetti, his family, and two of his comrades (one of whom was the co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) attended St. Andrews on Wells Street, a church influenced by this new movement. The Anglo-Catholic revival affected Rossetti in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The presence of the spiritual in his painting The Childhood of the Virgin Mary, completed in 1849, demonstrates this influence. In this painting, the altar is decorated in the manner of a Catholic altar. The subject of her painting, the Blessed Virgin, sews a red cloth, recalling the Christian tradition of embroidery on altar cloths being sewn by women.

From the beginning of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in 1848, artists included noble subjects or religious themes. Their goal was to communicate the message of "moral reform" through the style of their work, exhibiting "true nature. In Rossetti's short fiction "Hand and Soul" written in 1849, the main character Chiaro is an artist with spiritual inclinations. In the text, Chiaro's spirit appears long before him in the form of a woman who teaches him "Put your hand and soul at the service of men through God". Similarly, in "The Chosen Damsel", written between 1847 and 1870, Rossetti uses biblical references such as "the barrier of heaven" to describe the damsel looking at the land of paradise. Thus the connection between body and soul, the mortal and the supernatural, is a recurring theme in Rossetti's work. In Ave (1847), Mary awaits the day when she will meet her son in paradise, uniting the earthly with the spiritual. The text highlights an element of Anglican Marian theology, which describes Mary's body and soul as having already been accepted into heaven.

"A sonnet is the consecration of a moment, the memory that the immortality of the soul imprints on a dead and yet eternal hour" (The House of Life).

In 1853, he began the painting FoundFound, which nevertheless remained unfinished until his death, one of his few works to deal with a modern subject: a cattle driver picks up a prostitute he once loved in the street. Throughout his life, the painter preferred symbolic and mythological images to more realistic ones. Found is the first painting for which he took as a model the woman who would share his life after Siddal's death, Fanny Cornforth.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Les préraphaélites fondent en 1850 The Germ, un magazine leur donnant une plateforme pour exprimer leurs idées radicales. Chaque numéro contient une gravure, de la poésie et un essai critique ou historique. À la fin de chaque numéro est imprimé : " With a view to obtain the thoughts of Artists, upon Nature as evolved in Art this Periodical has been established. Ainsi, il n'est pas ouvert aux opinions contradictoires de tous ceux qui manient le pinceau et la palette, ni limité aux praticiens actuels ; mais il est destiné à énoncer les principes de ceux qui, dans le véritable esprit de l'Art, imposent une adhésion rigide à la simplicité de la Nature, soit dans l'Art, soit dans la Poésie...".  "

Elizabeth Siddal and the influence of Dante

In 1850 he met the woman who would become his muse and then his wife, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, known as Lizzie. Rossetti idealized Elizabeth; in a letter to Ford Madox Brown, he wrote that he felt his destiny was defined when they met. She was to have a great stylistic influence on his work and would be omnipresent in his paintings. He describes in his poem Sudden light two soul mates linked forever: "You have been mine before, How long ago I may not know. The painter Madox Brown describes Rossetti's obsession with drawing only Siddal as "monomania". Christina Rossetti, the artist's sister, writes of their relationship in her poem In an Artist's Studio: "One face looks out from all his canvases, Not as she is, but as she fills his dream." (One face looks out from all his canvases

Alongside his pictorial work, Rossetti worked on an English translation of Italian poems, including Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nova. This poem, along with Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, inspired his art. He created a method of painting in watercolor, using thick pigments mixed with gum to give an effect similar to that of medieval illuminations. He also developed a new technique for novel illustrations in pen and ink. His first published illustration, The Maid of Elfen-Mere (1855), illustrates the poem by his friend William Allingham. He also contributed two illustrations to the 1857 edition of Alfred Tennyson's poems by Edward Moxon, and illustrated the work of his sister Christina Rossetti.

Meeting with William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones

His vision of Arthurian and medieval legends also inspired William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Neither Burne-Jones nor Morris knew Rossetti at the time, but both were influenced by his work. When they met him, they recruited him as a contributor to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, founded in 1856 to promote their ideas on art and poetry. In February 1857, Rossetti wrote to William Bell Scott: "Two young men, editors of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, have recently arrived in town and are now to me really intimate friends. Their names are Morris and Jones. They have become artists instead of pursuing other careers to which the university usually leads, and both are true geniuses. Jones' designs are marvels of finish and detail, unmatched by anything else except perhaps, the best works of Albrecht Dürer." The following summer, Morris and Rossetti visited Oxford and saw the Oxford Union debating hall under construction. They launched a commission to paint the upper walls with scenes from Le Morte d'Arthur and decorate the ceiling. Seven artists were recruited, including Valentine Prinsep and Arthur Hughes. Rossetti also hired two models, Bessie and Jane Burden. Jane became the wife of William Morris in 1859. The fresco, done far too quickly, faded with time, and is now almost invisible.

A new direction

Around 1860, Rossetti returned to oil painting, abandoning the medieval compositions of the 1850s for close-up portraits of women in "flat" pictorial spaces characterized by rich colors. These paintings will have an influence on European symbolism. Rossetti painted his new lover Fanny Cornforth as the very type of physical eroticism while Jane Burden, the wife of William Morris is idealized as an ethereal goddess. "As with Rossetti's earlier reformation, new subjects emerged in a context of total reconfiguration of painting practice, from the most basic to the most abstract, conceptual level of meanings and ideas that can be embodied in visual form. His work is inspired not by medievalism, but by Italian Renaissance artists such as Titian or Veronese.

In 1861, Rossetti became one of the founders of the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Morris, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Phillip Webb, Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall. He contributed to the design of mirrors and other decorative objects.

In 1862, his wife Elizabeth Siddal died of an excess of laudanum, after having given birth to a stillborn child. Rossetti plunged into a deep depression. At the same time, unable to get his own poems published, he buried them in his wife's grave in Highgate Cemetery. It was also during this period that he painted his most beautiful canvases, notably Beata Beatrix, in which he idealized, in the guise of his deceased wife, Dante's Beatrice.

The years at Cheyne Walk

After the death of his wife, Rossetti rented the Tudor house at 16 Cheyne Walk, where he lived for twenty years in extravagant furnishings, populated by birds and exotic animals. Fascinated by wombats, he asked his friends to meet him at the "wombat den" at the London Zoo and spent a lot of time there. In September 1869, he acquired the first of his two wombats, which he named "Top". The latter was often invited to Rossetti's dinners, sleeping in the large room during the meal. Rossetti's fascination with exotic animals continued throughout his life, adding a toucan and a llama to his collection.

After Siddal's death, Fanny Cornforth, described by William Allington as Rossetti's "governess", came to live with him. He painted many pictures of her between 1858 and 1865. Their relationship, public, displeases Rossetti's entourage, shocked by Cornforth's modest origins and her lack of education. However, the painter and his new muse lived together for about ten years, with interruptions, since he also had a relationship with Jane Morris. In 1869, William Morris and Rossetti rented together the manor house of Kelmscott in Kelmscott (en), Oxfordshire. Initially used as a summer residence, it became a place of retreat for Rossetti and Jane Morris, who had a hidden and difficult relationship. They spent many summers there, with the Morris children, while William Morris travelled through Iceland between 1871 and 1873. Rossetti's obsession with his Jane Morris damaged his already fragile health, and he attempted suicide in 1872.

In 1865, he discovered Alexa Wilding (en), a seamstress who aspired to be an actress. He hired her as a full-time model, and she served as a model for The Blessed Damozel and other paintings. He met her at a party on The Strand in 1865 and was immediately struck by her beauty. She agreed to pose for him the next day, but eventually gave up. He saw her again a few weeks later, and persuaded her to accompany him to his studio. He paid her a week's worth of fees so that she would only pose for him, afraid that other artists would employ her. They shared a lasting bond; after Rossetti's death, Alexa Wilding regularly laid wreaths on his grave.


During these years, Rossetti asked his friends, in particular Charles Augustus Howel, to dig up the poems he had buried with his wife. He published them in 1871 in a collection entitled Poems by D. G. Rossetti. These poems shock by their eroticism and sensuality. For example, the poem The Wedding Night describes a couple who fall asleep after having sex. It was part of The House of Life, a series of complex poems describing the physical and spiritual development in an intimate relationship. Rossetti describes the form of the sonnet as "the monument of a moment," implying that he sought to contain the feelings of a fleeting moment and reflect on their meaning. In The House of Life, these monuments interact with each other and create a mosaic of fragments. This is the poet's most substantial literary work. The collection includes some translations, including the Ballade des dames du temps jadis by François Villon. In 1881, Rossetti published a second collection of poems Ballads and Sonnet which includes a reworked sonnet from The House of Life.

Last years

The violence of the critics after the publication of his first book of poems, as well as his relationship with Jane Morris, plunges him into a nervous breakdown in June 1872. He joined Jane in Kelmscott in September of that year but "spent his days in a haze of chloral and whisky. The following summer he was even more distressed, and neither Alexa Wilding nor Jane Morris posed for him at Kelmscott, where he created a series of dreamlike portraits. In 1874, Morris, who was completely reorganizing his firm, fired Rossetti. The rumor that the two men shared the same residence as Jane Morris could not be maintained. Rossetti abruptly left Kelmscott in July 1874 and never returned. During the last years of his life, he fell into a morbid state. His addiction to chloral hydrate increased his mental problems. In 1877, as the painter's health declined, Cornforth was forced to leave Cheyne Walk under pressure from the Rossetti family. However, he paid her a house and made her the owner of several works, and Cornforth regularly went to his house to treat him.

On Easter Sunday 1882, he died in a friend's mansion. There he had the vain hope of recovering his health, suffering from chronic renal failure. He is buried in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent. His grave is often visited by admirers of his work. In 1883, Fanny Cornforth and her husband opened a gallery to display Rossetti's legacy.

The Tate Britain in London, the museums of Birmingham, Manchester and Salford hold important collections of Rossetti's paintings, many of which were bequeathed to them after the death of L.S. Lowry in 1976. Lawrence (L.S) Lowry was an English painter and president of the Rossetti Society of Newcastle, founded in 1966. His private collection was built primarily around paintings by Rossetti, sketches by Elisabeth Siddal and Jane Morris, as well as other notable pieces including Pandora, Proserpine and a drawing by Annie Miller.

In an interview with Mervyn Levy, Lowry explains that his fascination with Rossetti's paintings is related to his own work: "I don't like the women he paints at all, but they fascinate me, like a snake. That's why I always buy Rossetti when I can. His women are pretty awful. It's like a friend of mine who confided in me that he hated my work even though it fascinated him." The friend Lowry refers to is businessman Monty Bloom, who also explained his obsession with Rossetti's portraits: "They're not real women .


  1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  2. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  3. ^ "Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes – Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com". oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  4. « https://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=01024 » (consulté le 15 décembre 2020)
  5. a et b Treuherz 2003, p. 15-18.
  6. Treuherz 2003, p. 19.
  7. Hilton 1970, p. 26.
  8. a b et c Treuherz 2003, p. 22.
  9. ^ sfogliabile anche cliccando qui (Internet Archive).
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Praz; Popham.
  11. ^ a b (EN) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Delphi Complete Paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Illustrated), Delphi Classics, 28 agosto 2014. URL consultato il 5 gennaio 2017.
  12. ^ Treuherz et al., pp. 15–18.
  13. ^ Ricordiamo che Beata Beatrix è stata realizzata nel 1872, dieci anni dopo la morte della Siddal.

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