Rossetti, Dante Gabriel

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel rōsĕtˈē [key], 1828–82, English poet and painter; son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti. He attended the Royal Academy and 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 and muse, Elizabeth Siddal, a former milliner's assistant whom he 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 reputation has long rested mainly upon his poetry. His paintings are deeply colored and sensuous. His earliest oils, such as The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849, Tate Gall.) were of a religious and mystical nature. Typical of his later paintings are idealized portraits of flowing-haired women, e.g., Proserpine (1874, Tate Gall.), and images of Arthurian or medieval romance, e.g., Music (1862, Victoria and Albert Mus.). He also painted watercolors, as deep in color as his oils, with his characteristic range of subject matter. His best artistic efforts are probably his drawings, particularly the pen-and-ink portraits of his mother, sister, wife, and friends.

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).

See his poems (ed. by O. Doughty, 1957); catalog raisonné of his paintings and drawings (ed. by V. Surtees, 2 vol., 1972); 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).

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