Dante Gabriel Rossetti

self portrait courtsey
Art Renewal Center

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.
By Dante Gabriel Rossetti -- "Sudden Light"


Dante Gabriel Rossetti (name at birth Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti), Poet, painter and designer, born May 12, 1828 in London, UK, the son of Gabriele Rossetti the exiled Italian patriot, poet, scholar, and revolutionary and Frances Polidori Rossetti. The poet Christina Rossetti was his sister. His younger brother, William Michael Rossetti was an art critic, and the main chronicler of the life and times of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He married the daughter of Ford Madox Brown.

Dante showed literary talent early, winning acclaim for his poem "The Blessed Damozel" (1847) before he was 20 years old. As a student at the Royal Academy Antique School, from 1845 to 1847, he met William Holman Hunt and John Millais, with whom he launched the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, which aimed to return to pre-Renaissance art forms involving vivid color and detail. He then studied for a short time with Madox Brown, before transferring his allegiance to Holman Hunt.

During the late 1850's criticism of his paintings caused him to withdraw from public exhibitions and turn to watercolors in which he felt that his shortcomings of technique were less apparent and could be sold privately. Many of his pictures at this time, concerned his lifelong fascination with Dante.

His early work was on religious themes, such as ‘The Annunciation’ (1850, Tate, London); his later manner became more secular, and more ornate in style,

Romantic love was Rossetti's main theme in both poetry and painting. In the early 1850s he met Elizabeth Siddal, the model for Millais famous picture Ophelia. She became his lover, and after an on-off relationship he married her in 1860, she was already very ill. Rossetti made many pencil drawings of Lizzie, which are extremely beautiful, and sensitive. In 1862, after the still birth of their child, Lizzie committed suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum. The grief-stricken Rossetti, had a manuscript version of his poems buried with his wife. In 1862 he produced the famous picture Beata Beatrix, nominally a Dantesque picture, but in reality a tribute to his dead wife, who was quite obviously the model, painted from memory. Following this trauma, he moved to a house in Cheyne Walk. where he lived for the most of the rest of his life. Rossetti acquired an obsession for exotic animals and lived in a curious fashion, with a menagerie of wild animals in his garden. His main companion was Fanny Cornforth, a basic cockney girl.

Rossetti's depiction of women became almost obsessively stylized. 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 glamorized as an ethereal goddess

In the late 1860s, Rossetti had his wife's body exhumed, to recover his poems. (This unhappily bizarre event along with the savage critical attacks on his poetry may have contributed to his mental problems, which ultimately destroyed him). He collated and publishing these poems in 1871. They created a controversy. 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.

The death of his wife in 1862, and adverse criticism of his poetry, turned him into a recluse, but Ballads and Sonnets (1881) contains some of his best work.

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.

For most of the last twenty years of his life Rossetti became increasingly obsessed with Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris. His pictures were of lone women, sumptuously colored, in luxurious, but often claustrophobic surroundings. Most of these pictures had as their model, a stylized Jane Morris. In the 1870s Rossetti became addicted to ether (chloral), a narcotic, and alcohol.

Jane Morris broke with him, plagued by his drug addiction and his increasing mental instability, he started to lose his reason. His health broken, he died at Birchington-on-Sea at the country house of a friend on Easter 1882.

Obituary - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sudden Light
A Sea Spell
Autumn Song


To view more of Dante Gabriel Rossetti poems:
Poetry X

For more detailed info on Dante Gabriel Rossetti visit:
Victorian Art in Britain


Some more of his poems includes:

Antiphony, Ardour And Memory, Aspecta Medusa (For A Drawing), Autumn Idleness, Ballad Of Dead Ladies, Barren Spring Beauty’s Pageant, The Birth-Bond, Body’s Beauty, Bridal Birth, Broken Music, The Choice: 01, The Choice: 02, The Choice: 03, Cloud And Wind, The Cloud Confines, Dark Day, A The Dark Glass, The Day Of Love, A Death’s Songsters, Death-In-Love, Equal Troth , Farewell To The Glen, From Dawn To Noon, Genius In Beauty, Gracious Moonlight, He And I, Heart Of The Night, Heart’s Compass , Heart’s Haven, Heart’s Hope, Her Gifts, Hero’s Lamp, The Hill Summit, Hoarded Joy, Hope Overtaken, The House of Life: Introductory Sonnet, Inclusiveness, Kiss, The, Known In Vain, The Lamp’s Shrine, Landmark, The, Last Fire , Life The Beloved , Life-In-Love, Little While, A, Lost Days, Lost On Both Sides, Love And Hope, Love Enthroned , Love’s Baubles, Love’s Fatality, Love’s Last Gift, Love’s Lovers, Love’s Nocturn, The Love-Letter, Love-Lily , Love-Moon, The , Love-Sweetness, The Lovers’ Walk, Lovesight , Mary’s Girlhood (For A Picture), Memorial Thresholds, Michelangelo’s Kiss, Mid-Rapture, The Monochord, Moonstar, The, The Morrow’s Message, My Sister’s Sleep, Newborn Death, Old And New Art,


[Poet's Corner Index]


Reference, Research and Source Information

Art Renewal Center
Victorian Art in Britain

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