Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the most prominent nineteenth century English painter and illustrator. Rossetti collaborated with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais to cofound the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was an influential figure who inspired the second generation of artist including the noteworthy figures like Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. His artwork was the forerunner of the Aesthetic movement and also made a considerable impact on the European Symbolists. The characteristic features of his work were medieval revivalism and sensuality. Besides painting, Rossetti artistic sensibility extended itself to poetry writing.

Born on, 12 May 1828, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, son of émigré Italian scholar Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti. He was originally named Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, but inspired by the literary genius Dante Alighieri he used Dante as his first name in publication of his work. He came from the family of notable literary figures. Celebrated poetess Christina Rossetti and authoress Maria Francesca Rossetti were his sisters, while the literary critic William Michael Rossetti was his brother. He was home-schooled in his childhood and the reading material consisted of bible, and remarkable works of writers such as Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.

Rossetti similar to all his siblings dreamed of becoming a poet as he enrolled himself at King’s College School. Simultaneously, he aspired to be a painter for his increasing interest in Medieval Italian art. In 1841, he was accepted at Henry Sass’s Drawing Academy, where he studied for four years. Shortly after, he attended the Antique School of the Royal Academy till 1848. He found a mentor subsequent to his time at Royal Academy, and studied under Ford Madox Brown. They had a lifelong close relationship pertaining to art.

Having seen William Holman Hunt’s painting The Eve of St. Agnes being displayed at an exhibition, Rossetti couldn’t help feel impressed. The painting illustrated a poem by the English poet John Keats whose work inspired Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel”. Thus, he sought Hunt’s friendship as he believed they shared similar aesthetic principles and artistic ideals. They came together and collaborated with John Everett Millais to frame the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s philosophy. The ideal behind forming such a movement was to reform English art that followed a mechanistic approach. Such artistic approach was first employed by the successor of Raphael, the Mannerist artists Sir Joshua Reynolds. While, the Pre-Raphaelites focused upon intricate detail in abundance, complex composition with intensity of colours.

In early 1850, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood published a magazine, The Germ in which Rossetti contributed a poem, “The Blessed Damozel”. The poem illustrates the story of fictional artist who envisions a woman who instructs him to create an artwork that juxtaposes the human and the divine. Rossetti’s interest always remained with the medieval side of the movement rather than the modern. One of his major artwork in oil represented realist qualities. He painted teenage Virgin Mary in his Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850). However, he was lambasted by the critics for his latter work where Rossetti switched to water colours. Even though, John Ruskin supported his work, he rarely put his work up for exhibition, henceforth. He married one of the models of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Elizabeth Siddal in 1860. They met a decade before their marriage and over the years she became his pupil, passion and muse.

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