Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a British artist, poet, painter, and illustrator. As a member of the prestigious Rossetti family, he was born with noble blood. His greatest accomplishment as an artist was establishing the movement called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood alongside English artists John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood began in 1848 with seven members, which included Dante's brother, William Michael Rossetti, a writer. Loosely inspired by the Nazarene movement, the group continued for over a decade, inspiring the next generation of artists and having Rossetti's art as one of the main influences. Rossetti's work is considered highly sensual and can be identified by the revival of the medieval atmosphere and aesthetic. The British artist was not only a prolific painter and illustrator but also thrived in poetry writing, often producing paintings to accompany his sonnets.
Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti was born in the city of London, in May 1828. His friends and family called him Gabriel, but he would sign Dante first, in honor of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Both his parents were notable scholars. His mother was Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori and his father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, was also a founder of Carbonari's secret society.
Rossetti was homeschooled for most of his childhood. Just as his siblings, he showed an early interest in becoming a poet and attended the King's College School. His early studies included reading works by British writers like Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, along with holy scriptures from the Bible. He had the will to become a poet like all his brothers and sisters, as well as a painter, and nurtured a keen interest in Medieval Italian art from an early age.
Although Dante Rossetti's father was a Roman Catholic, the young artist was baptized in the Anglican church, a religion inherited by his mother. He had many family members involved in the art world, like his uncle on his mother's side, John William Polidori. He was a writer associated with Romanticism and passed away before Rossetti was born. Dante's siblings were also prominent writers, like Christina Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Maria Francesca Rossetti - poet, critic, and author, respectively.
The artist began studying art around the age of thirteen at Henri Sass' Drawing Academy, which he continued until 1845. He left for the Royal Academy's Antique School, where he studied until the year 1848. During the year of his departure from the Academy, Rossetti met Ford Madox Brown, a historical painter, who became his mentor and a life-long friend.
Rossetti was deeply impacted after seeing William Holman Hunt's medieval painting The Eve of St. Agnes, which illustrates a Romanticist poem by John Keats. Rossetti immediately tried to make acquaintances with Hunt, who in 1850 completed the portrait Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
As Rossetti and Hunt quickly found similarities in their way of making and perceiving art. They shared the same inspirations and had a passion for medieval themes. In 1848, they developed the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelites, which were established along with John Everett Millais.
The group's central philosophy was to reject the impending artist style represented by the Mannerist artists who came after Michelangelo and Raphael, hence the name Pre - before - Raphael. The Brotherhood thought that this dominant style was a mechanical and superficial approach to art, represented by Sir Joshua Reynolds' teachings at the Royal Academy of Arts. They sought a revival of the Medieval culture, which was translated in a Romanticist view upon art and went against the prevalent Realist style of the Academy.
The early Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood counted with the participation of seven artists, including Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, and Frederic George Stephens. In 1850, the group published their own magazine called The Germ, in which Rossetti participated in with Blessed Damozel, inspired by medieval Italian poetry, along with the participation of his siblings as well. They were somewhat influenced by a German group of spiritualized Romanticist painters called the Nazarene movement. The artists would often sign their work with the initials "PRB", representing their production as a group.
Although the group influenced the next generation of painters, they took separate ways in their artistic paths in 1853. Rossetti's production of paintings for the Brotherhood was particularly memorable, as his depictions of beautiful women in idyllic atmospheres became a symbol for the Pre-Raphaelittes. The only original artist of the Brotherhood that continued extremely faithful to the group's ideals after they dissolved was William Hunt.
Rossetti's arduous work of translating Italian poetry into English significantly influenced the aesthetics and themes of his paintings, including the works of Dante Alighieri. These pieces emphasize the Medieval culture and life-style, like stories of chivalry and courtly love.
Following a harsh reception of his painting Ecce Ancilla Domini, exhibited in 1850, Rossetti would turn to watercolor painting, which he sold privately. He developed different techniques to create images more in sync with the Medieval aesthetics, like drawings in pen and ink and creating mixtures of watercolor with gum, reminding the viewer of the illuminated manuscripts.
Rossetti returned to oil painting around 1860. He modified his style to striking close-up compositions of women immersed in pictorial spaces characterized by his strong use of color. These paintings became a pivotal influence on the Symbolist movement and were quite different from his previous decade's production, which consisted of more elaborate compositions. This period was marked by the artist's shift of influence, from medievalism to the Renaissance's humanistic ideals.
Rossetti married in 1860 to Elizabeth Siddal, who he'd met a decade earlier. Siddal was the muse of many Pre-Raphaelites, posing for paintings like Millais' Ophelia. Her husband portrayed her in paintings like Beata Beatrix and Regina Cordium. Sadly, she passed away only two years after their marriage, after experiencing a miscarriage. She suffered laudanum poisoning, possibly suicide. Around seven years after her death, Rossetti mentioned her in a poem called Without Her.
The artist was also romantically involved with Fanny Cornforth in 1856, who was also his muse and was featured in paintings like Bocca Baciata. The couple had a public relationship and moved in together in 1862, after Siddall's passing. Rossetti was deeply inspired by the women in his life. Beginning around 1865, he occasionally nourished a secret affair with Jane Morris, Hunt's spouse. She is featured in one of Rossetti's masterpieces, The Day Dream.
The loss of Rossetti's beloved wife plunged the artist into depression. After her passing, he moved to London, where he stayed for twenty years. During this period, he lived with Fanny and had an unusual fascination with exotic animals, some of which he owned, like wombats, a toucan, and a llama.
The harsh critic reaction to his poetry contributed to Rossetti's mental breakdown in 1872. Towards the end of his life, Rossetti descended into a morbid state, worsened by an addiction to chloral hydrate and alcohol abuse.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti died on April 9, 1882, on Easter Sunday.