- Also known as
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
primary name: Rossetti, Dante Gabriel
- individual; painter/draughtsman; designer; author/poet; British; Male
- Life dates
- Painter and poet of Italian origins. Also a book illustrator. Founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Rossetti's father, Gabriele Rossetti, a political exile from the Kingdom of Naples, had settled in London where he became Professor of Italian, well known as a learned commentator on Dante; his mother's brother Dr John Polidori (d. 1821), was briefly Byron's travelling physician, and author of the supernatural story 'The Vampyre' sometimes mistakenly attributed to his employer; Christina Rossetti, the poet, was a sister. Brought up in this literary atmosphere, Dante Gabriel Rossetti found it hard to decide whether to devote himself to poetry or to painting. Though, as things turned out, he distinguished himself equally in both, initially he chose to be a painter; but his impatience with the drudgery of artistic training prevented him from acquiring the technical mastery of his fellow-students Holman Hunt and Millais, with whom in 1848 he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Only his very earliest paintings, 'The Girlhood of Mary Virgin' (1848-9) and 'Ecce Ancilla Domini' (1849-50), can be called Pre-Raphaelite in the strict technical sense. His one attempt at a 'modern moral' subject, 'Found', which he began in 1854, was a fiasco (see 1910,1210.1). All these were in oil, but in the 1850s he preferred to express himself in drawings and in watercolour, in which he developed an individual technique. His watercolours are best described as small-scale paintings, in which minutely hatched, diapered and stippled layers of intense colour, strengthened by the addition of bodycolour or gum, are applied with an almost dry brush. They are characterised by a vague poetic mediaevalism and romantic archaism, with none of the respect for historical accuracy that marks the orthodox Pre-Raphaelite treatment of subjects from history and literature.
"These chivalrous, Froissartian themes", he wrote, "are quite a passion of mine." The passion was shared by his younger friends William Morris and Edward Burne Jones, whose admiration and enthusiasm for a time provided the stimulus he needed when the first flush of romantic excitement was beginning to fade. But the small oil-painting 'Bocca Baciata', painted in 1859, is the first of the long series of half-or three-quarter-length figures of languid women which dominate his work from the mid-1860s. As often happens with English romantic artists, Rossetti's creative and imaginative powers began to wane before he was forty, and in his case the decline was accelerated by neurasthenia, insomnia, dependence on drugs and a form of persecution mania, aggravated by Robert Buchanan's attack in 1871 on 'The Fleshly School of Poetry' (see 1954,0508.1), which cut him off from most of his friends and turned him into a recluse.
Virginia Surtees, 'DGR paintings and drawings, a catalogue raisonné', Oxford 1971 (2 vols)
W.E.Friedman (ed.), 'The letters of DGR', 12 vols, Cambridge
Archival/Manuscript material in BM P&D: An album of material relating to DGR collected by A J and E J Hipkins, including letters, portraits, cuttings and a drawing attributed to W B Scott (c. 165.a.21, reg. no. 1936,1119.1.1-34)