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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

[roh-set-ee, -zet-ee, ruh-]
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 1828-82, English poet and painter; son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti. He was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelites. In addition to attending the Royal Academy he studied painting briefly with Ford Madox Brown. In 1848 he became acquainted with W. Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais and with them formed the brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites. In an effort to spread their ideas the group published in 1850 a short-lived magazine, the Germ, edited by Rossetti's brother William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919). In it was printed "The Blessed Damozel" by Dante Gabriel, written when he was 19 and considered by many to be his best poem. In 1851, John Ruskin championed the Pre-Raphaelites, and shortly thereafter made an arrangement with Rossetti to buy all of Rossetti's paintings that pleased him; thus, Rossetti became financially solvent. In 1860 he married his model Elizabeth Siddal, a former milliner's assistant whom he loved and had been more or less engaged to for nearly 10 years. Melancholic and tubercular, she took an overdose of laudanum and died in 1862. Rossetti, in a fit of guilt and grief, buried with her a manuscript containing a number of his poems. Some years later he permitted her body to be exhumed and the poems recovered. The first edition of his collected works appeared in 1870. The last years of his life were marked by an increasingly morbid state of mind (he became addicted to alcohol and chloral), and for a time he was considered insane. Although he began his career as a painter, Rossetti's lasting reputation rests upon his poetry. He never really mastered the technique of painting, and although his pictures are extremely sensuous, they are also somewhat two-dimensional. His best artistic efforts are his drawings, particularly the pen-and-ink portraits of his mother, his sister, and his wife. Almost inseparable in tone and feeling from his paintings, his poetry is noted for its pictorial effects and its atmosphere of luxurious beauty. Although there is always passion in his verse, there is also always thought. He was a master of the sonnet form, and his sonnet sequence "The House of Life" is one of his finest works. His other notable works include the ballad "Sister Helen" and the dramatic monologues "Jenny" and "A Last Confession." His translations from the Italian appeared as Dante and His Circle (1861). There are examples of his paintings in the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in many collections in England and the United States.

See his poems (ed. by O. Doughty, 1957); biographies by O. Doughty (2d ed. 1963), E. Waugh (1928, repr. 1969), and A. Faxon (1989); studies by S. A. Brooke (1908, repr. 1964), G. H. Fleming (1967), R. S. Fraser, ed. (1972), J. Rees (1981), and D. G. Riede (1983).

orig. Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photograph by Lewis Carroll, 1863

(born May 12, 1828, London, Eng.—died April 9, 1882, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent) British painter and poet. Son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti, he trained at the Royal Academy but vacillated between painting and poetry. As an informal pupil of Ford Madox Brown, he absorbed Brown's admiration for the German Nazarenes. In 1848, with several friends, he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters treating religious, moral, and medieval subjects in a naturalistic style. Rossetti expanded the Brotherhood's aims by linking poetry, painting, and Social Idealism and by treating “Pre-Raphaelite” as synonymous with a romanticized medieval past. When his oil paintings were severely criticized, he turned to watercolours based on literary works, which he could more easily sell to acquaintances, and became very successful. The group broke up in 1852, but Rossetti revived it in 1856 with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. After the death of his long-ailing wife in 1862, possibly by suicide, literary themes gave way to pictures of women, particularly Morris's wife, Jane. His poetry, including the sonnet sequence “The House of Life,” was widely admired. He broke with Morris in 1875 over his love for Jane and spent his later years as an alcoholic recluse.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator.

Early life

The son of émigré Italian scholar Gabriel Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti and his wife Frances Polidori, D.G. Rossetti was born in London, England and originally named Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti. His family and friends called him "Gabriel", but in publications he put the name Dante first (in honor of Dante Alighieri). He was the brother of poet Christina Rossetti, the critic William Michael Rossetti, and author Maria Francesca Rossetti, and was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt.

Like all his siblings, he aspired to be a poet and attended King's College London. However, he also wished to be a painter, having shown a great interest in Medieval Italian art. He studied at Henry Sass's Drawing Academy from 1841 to 1845 when he enrolled at the Antique School of the Royal Academy, leaving in 1848. After leaving the Royal Academy, Rossetti studied under Ford Madox Brown, with whom he was to retain a close relationship throughout his life.

Following the exhibition of Holman Hunt's painting The Eve of St. Agnes, Rossetti sought out Hunt's friendship. The painting illustrated a poem by the then still little-known John Keats. Rossetti's own poem "The Blessed Damozel" was an imitation of Keats, so he believed that Hunt might share his artistic and literary ideals. Together they developed the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti was always more interested in the Medieval than in the modern side of the movement. He was publishing translations of Dante and other Medieval Italian poets, and his art also sought to adopt the stylistic characteristics of the early Italians.

In 1850, Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal, who became an important model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. They were married in 1860.

Career

Rossetti's first major paintings display some of the realist qualities of the early Pre-Raphaelite movement. His Girlhood of Mary, Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini both portray Mary as an emaciated and repressed teenage girl. His incomplete picture Found was his only major modern-life subject. It depicted a prostitute, lifted up from the street by a country-drover who recognises his old sweetheart. However, Rossetti increasingly preferred symbolic and mythological images to realistic ones. This was also true of his later poetry. Many of the ladies he portrayed have the image of idealized Botticelli's Venus, who was supposed to portray Simonetta Vespucci.

Although he won support from the John Ruskin, criticism of his clubs caused him to withdraw from public exhibitions and turn to waterhum, which could be sold privately.

In 1861, Rossetti published The Early Italian Poets, a set of English translations of Italian poetry including Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova. These, and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, inspired his art in the 1850s. His visions of Arthurian romance and medieval design also inspired his new friends of this time, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Rossetti also typically wrote sonnets for his pictures, such as "Astarte Syraica". As a designer, he worked with William Morris to produce images for stained glass and other decorative devices.

Both these developments were precipitated by events in his private life, in particular by the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal. She had taken an overdose of laudanum shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child. Rossetti became increasingly depressed, and buried the bulk of his unpublished poems in his wife's grave at Highgate Cemetery, though he would later have them exhumed. He idealised her image as Dante's Beatrice in a number of paintings, such as Beata Beatrix.

These paintings were to be a major influence on the development of the European Symbolist movement. In these works, Rossetti's depiction of women became almost obsessively stylised. He tended to portray his new lover Fanny Cornforth as the epitome of physical eroticism, whilst another of his mistresses Jane Burden, the wife of his business partner William Morris, was glamorised as an ethereal goddess.

Later life and death

During this time, Rossetti acquired an obsession for exotic animals, and in particular wombats. He would frequently ask friends to meet him at the "Wombat's Lair" at the London Zoo in Regent's Park, and would spend hours there himself. Finally, in September 1869, he was to acquire the first of two pet wombats. This shortlived wombat, named "Top", was often brought to the dinner table and allowed to sleep in the large centrepiece of the dinner table during meals.

During these years, Rossetti was prevailed upon by friends to exhume his poems from his wife's grave. This he did, collating and publishing them in 1870 in the volume Poems by D. G. Rossetti. They created a controversy when they were attacked as the epitome of the "fleshly school of poetry". The eroticism and sensuality of the poems caused offense. One poem, "Nuptial Sleep", described a couple falling asleep after sex. This was part of Rossetti's sonnet sequence The House of Life, a complex series of poems tracing the physical and spiritual development of an intimate relationship. Rossetti described the sonnet form as a "moment's monument", implying that it sought to contain the feelings of a fleeting moment, and to reflect upon their meaning. The House of Life was a series of interacting monuments to these moments—an elaborate whole made from a mosaic of intensely described fragments. This was Rossetti's most substantial literary achievement.

In 1881, Rossetti published a second volume of poems, Ballads and Sonnets, which included the remaining sonnets from the The House of Life sequence.

Toward the end of his life, Rossetti sank into a morbid state, darkened by his drug addiction to chloral and increasing mental instability, possibly worsened by his reaction to savage critical attacks on his disinterred (1869) poetry from the manuscript poems he had buried with his wife. He spent his last years as a withdrawn recluse.

On Easter Sunday, 1882, he died at the country house of a friend, where he had gone in yet another vain attempt to recover his health, which had been destroyed by chloral as his wife's had been destroyed by laudanum. He is buried at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England. His grave is visited regularly by admirers of his life's work and achievements and this can be seen by fresh flowers placed there regularly.

Quotes

  • "The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.

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