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Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882)
by Scholes, Robert

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882)

He was born in London as the son of the poet Gabriele Rossetti (who had been a librettist for the composer Rossini), and Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori Rossetti, the sister of Byron's physician, Dr. John Polidori. As a student at the Royal Academy Antique School (1845-47), he met William Holman Hunt and John Millais, with whom he launched the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. He was a poet as well as a painter and a brother of the poet Christina Rossetti. There are web sites devoted to his work, including a notable archive at the University of Virginia (formerly The idea behind Pre-Raphaelitism was a return to the iconographic power of visual art before the Renaissance (embodied in this case by Raphael) introduced considerations of visual naturalism, perspective depth, and sensuality into painting. It was a sort of medievalism, but a medievalism of romance more than of orthodox religion. It is ironic, then, that the work of Rossetti and the PRB in general was condemned by a critic in the Contemporary Review in 1871 as "fleshly"--and this in the era of Bouguereau.

Like his friend William Morris, he married the beautiful model for many of his paintings--in his case, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, who died of an overdose of laudanum in 1862 and was the posthumous model (from memory, that is) for Rossetti's painting of Beatrice, the beloved of Dante. In a romantic gesture, Rossetti threw the manuscript of his poems into the grave when his wife was burried, but later repented and had his friends dig it up again.

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