Portrait of a Lady
Il Ramoscello 1865
A Vision of Fiammetta 1878
Mrs William Morris - The Blue Silk Dress 1868
Christina Rossetti 1866
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Charles Dante Rossetti was born in London on May 12, 1828, the son of Gabriele Rossetti, a political exile from Naples who was forced to abandon his native country due to his liberal politics. A a literary scholar and great admirer of Dante Alighieri, Gabriele named his first son after the poet. Rossetti's Mother was a devout woman of strong intellect and her faith would later have an influence on her son's early Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The Rossetti's had four children, Dante Gabriel, Maria, Christina, and Michael. The Rossetti household was a bohemian one, frequented by guests who would spend hours discussing politics or poetry.
In 1841, Rossetti enrolled at the Sass Academy Art School in preparation for studies at the Royal Academy School. Rossetti had difficulties choosing between devoting himself to painting or poetry and by this time had already translated several volumes of Italian poetry to English. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1884 but was impatient with the tedium of artistic training. By 1848, he had grown tired of his studies and left the Academy for tutelage under painter Ford Madox Brown. At this time he also began to use the name which he is known by, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
In September of 1848 William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Rossetti formed a group which they called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood based on the ideals they had been exposed to through the writings of John Ruskin. The young artists sought the reform of art and to return it to a pre-Renaissance style of painting with emphasis placed on symbolism, purity of form, and simplicity. The term 'Pre-Raphaelite' was chosen because the three admired early Italian art before Raphael and 'Brotherhood' for it's secret-society connotations. The number seven was considered mystical so they decided that this would be the number of members within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Soon four others were persuaded to join, Thomas Woolner, Frederick George Stephens, James Collinson and Michael Rossetti who would become the group's historian. Often the artist would sit for each other's paintings and the mysterious "PBR" became their signature.
In 1849, Walter Deverell introduced Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her ethereal, romantic beauty lead her to become known as one of the Brotherhood's 'stunners' and her image is seen in in some of Rossetti's most important works. Eventually Rossetti monopolized Siddal's posing for himself, and the two established a romantic relationship with Lizzie becoming Rossetti's Beatrice. Lizzie was physically weak and in constant ill health but her condition began to decline to where she started taking laudanum to ease her pains.
The couple were engaged for ten years but did not marry until 1860. By Christmas that year, Lizzie was pregnant but on May 2, 1861 a baby girl was stillborn to them. This plunged Lizzie further into depression and in 1862 she committed suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum. Rossetti mourned deeply, blaming himself for the suicide of his wife. Before Lizzie's coffin was sealed and taken to London's Highgate cemetery for burial, Rossetti placed a manuscript containing the only copy of his poetry he was preparing for publication into her casket.
After Lizzie's death, Rossetti moved to London where he became neighbors with other artists such as Whistler. He was seen in public in a drunken state and though always having been sensitive to criticism, his sensitivity increased. Rossetti developed an interest in spiritualism, holding séances with hopes of contacting his dead wife's spirit.
After October of 1866, Rossetti rarely ventured outside his house in the daylight and developed a case of insomnia. During the later 1860's and 1870's his paintings turned toward a style of melancholy female beauty, the subjects often modeled by wife of William Morris, Jane, who Rossetti had met in 1857. By 1869 Rossetti and Jane had become lovers with Morris sadly aware and the three lived together at Kelmscott Manor. His later work would be dominated by her image.
In 1870 Rossetti completed his most well known portrayal of Lizzie Siddal, Beata Beatrix. In October 1869, seven years after Lizzie's death, Rossetti had Siddal's grave exhumed in order to retrieve the volume of poems he had buried with her. News of the exhumation spread along with the story that Lizzie's hair had continued to grow, filling the coffin with it's golden splendor. The poetry was published in the volume Poems in 1870 and met with heavy disapproval from critics, terming it from The Fleshly School of Poetry. Rossetti went against the advices of friends and composed an article titled The Stealthy School of Criticism. The writing soon enflamed the controversy and began a vicious public argument. Rossetti's insomnia returned and he began to take doses of chloral hydrate washed down with whiskey, declining into alcoholism and drug addiction. On June 8, 1872 Dante Gabriel Rossetti attempted suicide by drinking an overdose of laudanum but was nursed back to health by his friends.
In December of 1881 Rossetti suffered stroke which left him largely paralyzed and his already waning health deteriorated rapidly. Dante Gabriel Rossetti died on April 9, 1882. Rossetti had made clear that he did not wish to be buried next to Lizzie in London so he was laid to rest in a churchyard in Birchington-On-Sea.
A small collection of Rossetti's paintings are in the pictures area.
Resources on Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Rossetti Archive provides a database of extensive information on Dante Gabriel Rossetti's pictorial and textual works. Also visit The Art Renewal Center which includes 120 paintings and drawings online.
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