Dante Gabriel Rossetti Biography

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, also known as Dante Rossetti, was a British poet, painter, and illustrator who co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Known for his unconventional approach to religious and medieval subjects, Rossetti paved the way for the Aestheticism movement and inspired generations of artists. His poetry and illustrations left a lasting impact on literature and art, with his sonnets capturing complex human emotions and his illustrations adorning popular museums. One of his notable works includes illustrating his sister Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem ‘Goblin Market’. Additionally, Rossetti’s wooden illustrations, such as ‘King Arthur and the Weeping Queens’, showcase his artistic versatility.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In May
  • Also Known As: Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti
  • Died At Age: 53
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Siddal (m. 1860–1862)
    • Father: Gabriele Rossetti
    • Mother: Frances Polidori
    • Siblings: Christina Rossetti, Maria Francesca Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti
  • Born Country: England
  • Poets
  • Illustrators
  • Died on: April 9, 1882
  • Place of death: Birchington-on-Sea
  • More Facts
  • Education: King’s College School, Royal Academy

Childhood & Early Life

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti was born on May 12, 1828, in London, England, to the popular Rossetti family. His father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, was an Italian scholar who founded the secret society ‘Carbonari’, and his mother, Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori, was also a scholar.

Dante Rossetti had three siblings, Maria Francesca Rossetti, a nun and author; William Michael Rossetti, a critic and author; and Christina Georgina Rossetti, who was a poet.

Dante Rossetti used the name Dante in all of his publications to honor one of his idols, Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri (popularly known as Dante Alighieri).

He didn’t attend any schools at the beginning. He was initially taught at home; later, he studied at the King’s College School in Wimbledon.

Later, he learned a lot about painting under the tutelage of artist Henry Sass. Dante also attended the Antique School of the Royal Academy and was taught by British painter Ford Madox Brown.

Co-founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Dante Rossetti attended the exhibition of ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, one of the greatest paintings of English artist William Holman Hunt. He became friends with Hunt and together they came up with the idea of creating a society consisting of poets, critics, and painters.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed with seven persons, including the three co-founders, Dante Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. The brotherhood also had Dante’s brother, William Michael Rossetti, alongside painter James Collinson, critic Frederic George Stephens, and sculptor Thomas Woolner. Except for Dante’s brother, everyone else had studied at the Royal Academy.

While artists William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais emphasized on creating paintings with minute detailing of nature, Dante also included poets and sculptors to the brotherhood.

Artistic Creations

Dante’s earlier works include his major creation ‘Girlhood of Mary Virgin’ and ‘Ecce Ancilla Domini’, both of which portrayed Mary as a young girl. The first painting drew wide praises from many artists, including renowned painters like William Bell Scott.

Upon its public showcasing, the painting ‘Ecce Ancilla Domini’, drew completely different impressions from the masses and the critics. The technicalities and methods of his paintings didn’t appeal to the critics and he decided to use watercolors.

Dante had many ‘muses.’ One of them was Elizabeth Siddal whom he met during the early 1850s; he later married her. Many of his drawings include his models and muses.

Some of his most popular works featuring his muses are ‘Drawing of Elizabeth Siddal Reading’ (1854), ‘Drawing of Annie Miller’ (1860), ‘Portrait of Marie Spartali Stillman’ (1869), and ‘The Roseleaf (Portrait of Jane Morris)’ (1870).

Dante created numerous watercolors, including ‘The Tune of the Seven Towers’ (1857) and ‘Lady Lilith’ (1867), as well as the unfinished oil painting ‘Found’ which is currently at display at the Delaware Art Museum.

Besides painting, he also wrote ‘The Blessed Damozel’, one of his most popular poems that was written between 1847 and 1870. The poem was first published in his journal ‘The Germ.’ He revised the poem and republished it three more times later on.

Dante’s woodcut illustrations were works of genius. His illustrations often took the spotlight away from the fancy book cover designs. His first published illustration was ‘The Maids of Elfen-Mere’ which was published in 1855.

He also illustrated the ‘King Arthur and the Weeping Queens’ (1857) and ‘Golden Head by Golden Head’ (1862). He designed the ‘Sir Tristram and La Belle Ysoude drink the potion’ in 1862.

In 1869, Dante Rossetti created three brilliant sketches of caricatures, ‘Death of a Wombat’, ‘William Morris reading to Jane Morris while she takes the waters at Bad Ems’, and ‘Mrs. Morris and the Wombat’.

Dante’s sister Christina Rossetti wrote the narrative poem ‘Goblin Market’. The poem was about two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, who are tempted with fruits by the goblins. Dante illustrated the book, including the cover. It carried many sexual imageries, which, as he explained, were not for children.

Family & Personal Life

Elizabeth Siddal was a model and muse for the painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Later on, as she grew fond of Dante, she only worked with him. Dante married Siddal in 1860.

Siddal, who suffered from ill health, died in 1862, and Dante moved to Cheyne Walk to start afresh. He surrounded himself with luxury in his new home. He also brought animals and birds, including a llama and a toucan, to keep him company.

In the early 1870s, Dante struggled to cope with harsh criticism and suffered from mental problems. He became addicted to drugs and suffered a lot of physical and mental issues.

In the early 1880s, Dante tried to recover from his addiction and took the help of his friends. He died on a Sunday in 1882, in one of his friends’ house.

Dante’s creations are kept in popular museums and art galleries like Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Tate Britain, Manchester Art Gallery, and Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

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