Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Equally renowned as a painter and a
poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of artists and writers who sought to emulate the purity and simplicity of the medieval period. Both his painting and writing are characterized by mysticism, filled with rich, sensuous imagery and vivid detail. Although the subjects of his verse are often considered narrow, Rossetti is an acknowledged master of the ballad and sonnet forms.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Gabriele Rossetti and his wife, Frances Polidori. An Italian expatriate, Rossetti’s father came to England four years before Rossetti’s birth. Gabriele Rossetti was a Dante scholar, who had been exiled from Naples for writing poetry in support of the Neapolitan Constitution of 1819. (Secret groups such as the Carbonari, who supported the constitution sought to bring self-government to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies—which included Naples—in place of the Austrian-backed monarch, Ferdinand, but failed.) He settled in London in 1824. Frances Polidori had trained as a governess and supervised her children’s early
education. Gabriele Ros-setti supported the family as a professor of Italian at King’s College, London, until his eyesight and general health deteriorated in the 1840s. Frances then attempted to support the family as a teacher of French and Italian and an unsuccessful founder of two day schools.
Consequently, Rossetti was bilingual from early childhood and grew up in an atmosphere of e´migre´ political and literary discussion. From childhood, Rossetti intended to be a painter, and he addressed literary subjects in his earliest drawings. He was tutored at home in German and read the Bible, Shakespeare, Goethe’s Faust, The Arabian Nights, Charles
Dickens, and the poetry of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. At the age of eight, he entered Mr. Paul’s day school in Portland Place and a year later began studies at King’s College School, which he attended from 1837 to 1842.
From 1842 to 1846, Rossetti was a student at Cary’s Academy ofArtto prepare for the Royal Academy, which he entered in July 1846. He then spent a year in the Academy Antique School. Bythis time, Great Britain was well into the reign of Queen Victoria, a time of economic prosperity, expansion of the middle class, and a cultural revival often called the second English Renaissance. The theater,
literature, and arts were particularly emphasized, drawing on the Gothic and classical ideals as well as modern ideas.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood After leaving school, Rossetti apprenticed himself to the historical painter Ford Madox Brown, who later became his closest lifelong friend. Rossetti continued his extensive reading of poetry (
Edgar Allan Poe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, John Keats, Robert Browning, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson) and romantic and satiric fiction (Charles Maturin, William Makepeace Thackeray, Wilhelm Meinhold, Friedrich de la Motte-Fouque´, Charles Wells). In 1845, Rossetti began translations from Italian (Dante’s Vita Nuova and British Museum volumes of Dante’s little-known predecessors) and German medieval poetry.
In 1848, Rossetti joined John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt in founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Their name honored Carlo Lasinio’s engravings of paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli (an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence) and others who decorated Pisa’s Campo Santo (originally used as a cemetery for Pisa’s illustrious citizens). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought to introduce new forms of thematic seriousness, high coloration, and attention to detail into contemporary British art. They were opposed to the stale conventions of contemporary academy art, which drew on classical poses and the compositions of the Italian High Renaissance painter Raphael.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brothers provided each other with companionship,
criticism, and encouragement early in their careers and defended each other against initial public hostility. Rossetti quickly became the leader of the group and shaped the group’s literary tastes, but the life of the group was short-lived. Meetings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood became sporadic by 1851, and by 1853 the group had disbanded. It had served its purpose, however, which was to provide initial professional encouragement to its members.
Success as a Poet Rossetti first received recognition as a poet in 1850, when he published ‘‘The Blessed Dam-ozel’’ in the Pre-Raphaelite journal the Germ. Written when he was only eighteen, this poem is characteristic of much of Rossetti’s later poetry, with its sensuous detail and theme of lovers, parted by death, who long for reunion. That same year, Rossetti met Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, who modeled for many of Rossetti’s drawings and paintings and became his wife in 1860.
Rossetti painted steadily, saw publication of his The Early Italian Poets, and cofounded the firm of designers Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co. His wife suffered from consumption (a popular name for tuberculosis, a contagious lung disease that was common in this period), and after two unhappy years of marriage, she died from an overdose of laudanum (an opium-based pain killer regularly prescribed by doctors in Victorian England), which she had been taking regularly for her illness. In a fit of remorse and guilt, Rossetti buried the only manuscript of his poems with his wife. At the urging of friends, he allowed the manuscript to be exhumed in 1869.
The following year, Rossetti published Poems, (1869) which established his reputation as a leading poet. Containing much of Rossetti’s finest work, Poems includes ‘‘Eden Bower,’’ ‘‘The Stream’s Secret,’’ and ‘‘Sister Helen,’’ which is regarded by many as one of the finest Victorian literary ballads.
Decline and Death By 1868, Rossetti was in ill health, suffering from physical and mental complaints that burdened him for the rest of his life. His unreliable eyesight, headaches, and insomnia led him to become dependent on whiskey and chloral (a depressant drug developed in the 1830s specifically for inducing sleep). This precipitated a gradual decline in health, though he continued to paint and write even after a personal change and mental breakdown caused by an attack on his poetry by Robert Buchanan in The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day (1872). Rossetti’s poetry collection, Ballads and Sonnets, appeared in 1881, and he died the following year at the age of fifty-four.
Works in Literary Context
Painting to Poetry The dual nature of Rossetti’s artistic endeavors led to crossover between them. Just as his literary background influenced his choice of mythological, allegorical, and literary subjects for his paintings, his Pre-Raphaelite love of detail, color, and mysticism shaped much of his poetry. The influence of Rossetti’s painting is particularly felt throughout Poems.
Evolution of Style and Theme It is difficult to date Rossetti’s work or to divide it into periods, since he continually revised poems begun as a young man. Nonetheless, some divisions are possible. When Rossetti was young, his bright pictorialism, concrete detail, archaisms, and sublimated sexuality reflected rather conventional aspects of contemporary poetic sensibility. By the late 1860s, his sense of failure had evolved into an oppressive fear about identity. In Rossetti’s middle and later poetry, sexual love became a near-desperate desire to transcend time. By comparison, the final sonnets of Rossetti’s life are tranquil, even celebratory. His writings can perhaps best be viewed as an expression of Victorian social uncertainty and loss of faith. Rossetti’s poetry on the absence of love is as bleakly despairing as any of the century, and no poet of his period conveyed more profoundly certain central Victorian anxieties: metaphysical uncertainty, sexual anxiety, and fear of time.
Influence on Other Writers and Artists It is also difficult to compare Rossetti’s achievement with that of the other Victorian poets. For its modest size, Rossetti’s poetic work is wide in manner and subject. He was a talented experimenter, and his heightened rhythms and refrains influenced other mid - and late nineteenth-century poetry. He was also an important popularizer of Italian poetry in England and a major practitioner of the sonnet. Certainly, he lacked the strong, confident range and subtle lyricism of Tennyson and Browning, but his erotic spirituality and gift for the dramatic were his own. Rossetti was perhaps as significant for his effect on others as for his own work, a judgment that he himself came to make with growing bitterness. His critical remarks on Romantic and contemporary literature were often convincing and influenced all around him.
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Christina Rossetti Christina Rossetti is one of a handful of major English devotional poets, together with John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughn, and her contemporary, the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. One mighThexpect the beloved sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to manifest a marked difference from other poets of religious sensibility. Like the Pre-Raphaelites, her style Christina Rossetti One of the English language’s best-known female poets, British author Christina Rossetti is remembered for her literary inheritance as much as for her literary contributions. Rossetti, whose work gained renewed interest with the dawn of feminist criticism, was an important member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, an artistic and literary group that aspired to recapture the Victorian literature The first decades (1830s to 1860s) of Queen Victoria's reign produced a vigorous and varied body of literature that attempted to come to terms with the current transformations of English society, but writers in the latter decades (1870s to 1900) withdrew into AESTHETICISM, a preoccupation with sensation as an end in itself. Confronted by the In the Shadow of E. B. B.: Christina Rossetti and Ideological Estrangement The year after Christina Rossetti’s death Andrew Lang contrasted her poetic accomplishments with those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, adding his views to what in late Victorian England was already something of a critical tradition. Ironically for feminist admirers of Rossetti today, Lang begins his eulogy with a statement that demonstrates his captivity to patriarchal domestic Comparing a painting by fra filippo lippi and dante gabriel rossetti Comparing a painting by Fra Filippo Lippi and Dante Gabriel Rossetti The two pictures are Rosetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini and Lippi’s Annunciation. Both of the artists were influenced by their age. Lippi lived in Italy between 1406 and 1469 and Rosetti from 1828 to 1882. Lippi’s background of Italian Renaissance determined his style to a