Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 7 Interesting Facts
Dante Gabriel Rossetti is the most famous of the talented Rossetti brood. A poet, painter, and translator, Rossetti was a co-founder of the first phase of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the inspiration behind its second phase. The Brotherhood sought “to do battle against the frivolous art of the day”; in particular, each of the members painted with a penchant for complex compositions, an acute sense of color, and rigorous attention to detail. But there is more to Rossetti’s life; here are a few tidbits:
1. Rossetti hailed from a talented Italian family.
His father was Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian scholar of the works of Dante Alighieri, who was exiled to England for writing subversive poetry.His siblings include poet and author Christina Rossetti, editor and art critic William Rossetti, and author and eventual nun Maria Francesca Rossetti.Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia, 1868
2. “Dante” was not his first name.
His full name was Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, and his family and close friends called him Gabriel.He put the name “Dante” first in publications, perhaps in homage to Alighieri, whose works would influence Rossetti’s paintings and poems toward the mystical and symbolic.
3. He met his wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal, when she was modeling for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1849.
She eventually modeled exclusively for Rossetti, becoming the subject and inspiration of several of his most well-known paintings, such as Beata Beatrix(1863).After they were married in 1860, Siddal began to study painting with Rossetti. She was an accomplished painter herself.Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Joan of Arc, 1882
4. His relationship with the sickly Siddal was loving but tumultuous.
Between 1849 and 1860, Rossetti and Siddal got engaged several times, only for him to break it off at the last minute due to several affairs.He was so deeply devoted to her that he buried his only copy containing all of his poems up to that point with her when she died in 1862 due to an overdose of laudanum, a form of powdered opium. Later in life, he had her body exhumed in order to retrieve the manuscript. This act haunted him until his death.The Day Dream, 1880 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
5. He had three other muses after Siddal: Franny Cornforth, Jane Morris, and Alexa Wilding.
Only Alexa Wilding was not romantically involved with Rossetti, though she modeled for more of his paintings than anyone else.Though Rossetti introduced Jane Burden to her future husband William Morris, who deeply admired Rossetti and his works, Rossetti had an affair with Jane. There is some indication that Morris may have known about the affair and condoned it to an extent.
6. He had a fascination with exotic birds and animals.
After Siddal died, Rossetti lived for 20 years at Cheyne Walk, where he surrounded himself with a menagerie that included wombats–his favorite animal–a llama, and a toucan.It was said that he trained the toucan to ride the llama around the dining table while wearing a cowboy hat.La Viuda Romana, 1874 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
7. He was very sensitive to criticism.
When his painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini was exhibited in 1850, the harsh criticism it received made Rossetti resolve to take up watercolors as a medium and rarely put up his work for exhibit hence.In 1870, he released a volume of poetry simply titled Poems, some of which were from the manuscript taken from Siddal’s coffin. These were favorably reviewed by all except one “Thomas Maitland” (a pseudonym for the critic Robert Buchanan), who singled out the work and accused it as being an example of “the Fleshly School of Poetry.” And though Rossetti published a counterattack called “The Stealthy School of Criticism,” it significantly contributed to his mental breakdown in 1872.
Dante Rossetti died a broken man plagued by depression, addiction, and illness. That said, many scholars say that 19th century art wouldn’t have been what it was without his influence. What do you think about Rossetti’s portrait paintings? Let us know in the comments section!