Hunt rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Portrait by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), 1853. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Born May 12 1828(1828-Template:MONTHNUMBER-12)
London, England
Died April 9 1882(1882-Template:MONTHNUMBER-09) (aged 53)
Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England
Occupation Poet, Illustrator, Painter
Nationality English
Ethnicity Italian
Citizenship United Kingdom British subject
Literary movement Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 - 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter, and translator.



Rossetti was born in London. His father was Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian scholar, who came to England in 1824, and was professor of Italian in King's Colleg, London. His mother was Frances Polidori, English on her mother's side, so that the poet was 3/4 Italian, and 1/4 English. He was educated at King's College School, and began the systematic study of painting in 1842, and in 1848, with Holman Hunt, Millais, and others, founded the pre-Raphaelite school of painting. In 1849 he exhibited the "Girlhood of Mary Virgin," and among his other pictures are "Beata Beatrix," "Monna Vanna," and "Dante's Dream." Simultaneously with art he worked hard at poetry, and by 1847 he had written "The Blessed Damozel" and "Hand and Soul" (both of which appeared in the Germ, the magazine of the pre-Raphaelites), "Retro me Sathanas," "The Portrait," and "The Choice," and in 1861 he brought out a volume of translations from the early Italian poets under the title of Dante and his Circle. The death of his wife in 1862, after a married life of less than 2 years, told heavily upon him, as did various attacks upon his poetry, including that of Robert Buchanan — "The Fleshly School of Poetry" — to which he replied with "The Stealthy School of Criticism." His Poems which, in the vehemence of his grief, he had buried in the coffin of his wife, and which were afterwards exhumed, appeared in 1870; and his last literary effort, Ballads and Sonnets, containing the sonnets forming The House of Life, in 1881. In his later years he suffered acutely from neuralgia, which led to the habit of taking chloral. Rossetti was fastidious in composition; his poems are as remarkable for condensation, finish, and exact expression of the poet's thought as for their sumptuous colouring and rich concrete imagery. In later years he was subject to depression, and became somewhat embittered, and much of a recluse.[1]

Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. He was later to be the main inspiration for a 2nd generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement. Rossetti's personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, and Jane Morris.

Both John Ruskin and Walter Pater considered him the most important and original artistic force in the 2nd half of the 19th century in Great Britain.[2]


Gabriele Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Gabriele Rossetti. Drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), 1853. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The son of emigre Italian scholar Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti and his wife Frances Polidori, Rossetti was born in London, England and originally named Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti. His family and friends called him Gabriel, but in publications he put the name Dante 1st (in honor of Dante Alighieri). He was the brother of poet Christina Rossetti, critic William Michael Rossetti, and author Maria Francesca Rossetti.[3]

The young Rossetti is described as "self-possessed, articulate, passionate and charismatic"[4] but also "ardent, poetic and feckless".[5] Like all his siblings, he aspired to be a poet and attended King's College School, Wimbledon. However, he also wished to be a painter, having shown a great interest in Medieval Italian art. He studied at Henry Sass's Drawing Academy from 1841 to 1845 when he enrolled at the Antique School of the Royal Academy, leaving in 1848. After leaving the Royal Academy, Rossetti studied under Ford Madox Brown, with whom he was to retain a close relationship throughout his life.[3]

Following the exhibition of William Holman Hunt's painting The Eve of St. Agnes, Rossetti sought out Hunt's friendship. The painting illustrated a poem by the then still little-known John Keats. Rossetti's own poem "The Blessed Damozel" was an imitation of Keats, so he believed that Hunt might share his artistic and literary ideals. Together they developed the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which they founded along with John Everett Millais.

The group's intention was to reform English art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach originally adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo and the formal training regime introduced by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Their approach was to return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian and Flemish art.[6][7] Critic John Ruskin later wrote:

Every Pre-Raphaelite landscape background is painted to the last touch, in the open air, from the thing itself. Every Pre-Raphaelite figure, however studied in expression, is a true portrait of some living person.[8]

For the 1st issue of the Brotherhood's magazine, The Germ, published early in 1850, Rossetti contribute his poem "The Blessed Damozel" and a story about a fictional early Italian artist inspired by a vision of a woman who bids him combine the human and the divine in his art.[9] Rossetti was always more interested in the Medieval than in the modern side of the movement, working on translations of Dante and other Medieval Italian poets, and adopting the stylistic characteristics of the early Italians.

Early careerEdit

Rossetti selbst

Self-portrait, 1847. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Rossetti's earliest major paintings in oil display the realist qualities of the early Pre-Raphaelite movement. His Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) both portray Mary as an emaciated and repressed teenage girl. William Bell Scott saw Girlhood in progress in Hunt's studio, and remarked on young Rossetti's technique :

He was painting in oils with water-colour brushes, as thinly as in water-colour, on canvas which he had primed with white till the surface was a smooth as cardboard, and every tint remained transparent. I saw at once that he was not an orthodox boy, but acting purely from the aesthetic motive. The mixture of genius and dilettantism of both men shut me up for the moment, and whetted my curiosity.[10]

Stung by criticism of his next major painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini, exhibited in 1850, and the "increasingly hysterical critical reaction that greeted Pre-Raphaelitism"[6] in that year, Rossetti turned to watercolors, which could be sold privately. Although his work subsequently won support from John Ruskin, Rossetti only rarely exhibited thereafter.[6]

Dante and MedievalismEdit

In 1850, Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal, an important early model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Over the next decade, she became his muse, his pupil, and his passion. They were finally married in 1860.[11]

Rossetti's incomplete picture Found, begun in 1853 and unfinished at his death, was his only major modern-life subject. It depicted a prostitute, lifted from the street by a country drover who recognises his old sweetheart. However, Rossetti increasingly preferred symbolic and mythological images to realistic ones,[4]

For many years, Rossetti worked on English translations of Italian poetry including Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova (published in The Early Italian Poets in 1861 and Dante and His Circle in 1874). These and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur inspired his art of the 1850s. He created his own method of painting in watercolors, using thick pigments mixed with gum to give rich effects similar to medieval illuminations. He also developed a novel drawing technique in pen-and-ink. His earliest published illustration was "The Maids of Elfen-Mere" (1855), for a poem by his friend William Allingham, and he contributed 2 illustrations to Edward Moxon's 1857 edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Poems as well as illustrations for works by his sister Christina Rossetti.[12]

His visions of Arthurian romance and medieval design also inspired William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.[13] Neither Burne-Jones nor Morris knew Rossetti personally, but both were much influenced by his works, and met him by recruiting him as a contributor to their Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which Morris founded in 1856 to promote their ideas about art and poetry.[14][15]

In February 1857, Rossetti wrote to William Bell Scott:

Two young men, projectors of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, have recently come up to town from Oxford, and are now very intimate friends of mine. Their names are Morris and Jones. They have turned artists instead of taking up any other career to which the university generally leads, and both are men of real genius. Jones's designs are marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequalled by anything unless perhaps Albert Durer's finest works.[14]

That summer Morris and Rossetti visited Oxford and finding the new Oxford Union debating-hall under construction, pursued a commission to paint the upper walls with scenes from Le Morte d'Arthur and to decorate the roof between the open timbers. 7 artists were recruited, among them Valentine Prinsep and Arthur Hughes,[16] and the work was hastily begun. The frescoes, done too soon and too fast, began to fade at once and now are barely decipherable. Rossetti recruited 2 sisters, Bessie and Jane Burden, as models for the Oxford Union murals, and Jane became Morris's wife in 1859.[17]

A new directionEdit

William Bell Scott; John Ruskin; Dante Gabriel Rossetti by William Downey

William Bell Scott (l), John Ruskin, and Rosetti, 1863. Photo by William Downey (1829-1915). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Around 1860, Rossetti returned to oil painting, abandoning the dense medieval compositions of the 1850s in favour of powerful close-up images of women in flat pictorial spaces characterized by dense color. These paintings were to be a major influence on the development of the European Symbolist movement.[18] In these works, Rossetti's depiction of women became almost obsessively stylised. He tended to portray his new lover Fanny Cornforth as the epitome of physical eroticism, whilst Jane Burden, the wife of his business partner William Morris, was glamorised as an ethereal goddess. "As in Rossetti's previous reforms, the new kind of subject appeared in the context of a wholesale reconfiguration of the practice of painting, from the most basic level of materials and techniques up to the most abstract or conceptual level of the meanings and ideas that can be embodied in visual form."[18] These new works were based not on medievalism, but on the Italian High Renaissance artists of Venice, Titian and Veronese.[18][19]

In 1861, Rossetti became a founding partner in the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Morris, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall.[15] Rossetti contributed designs for stained glass and other decorative objects.

Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Siddal died of an overdose of laudanum in 1862, shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child. Rossetti became increasingly depressed, and upon the death of his beloved Lizzie, buried the bulk of his unpublished poems with her at Highgate Cemetery, though he would later have them dug back up. He idealised her image as Dante's Beatrice in a number of paintings, such as Beata Beatrix.[20]

Cheyne Walk yearsEdit

Completepoetical00rossuoft 0010

Rossetti in The Complete Poetical Works, 1887. Courtesy Internet Archive.

After the death of his wife in 1862, Rossetti leased Tudor House at number 16 Cheyne Walk, along the Thames in London, where he lived for the next 20 years surrounded by extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals.[21]

Rossetti was fascinated with wombats, frequently asking friends to meet him at the "Wombat's Lair" at the London Zoo in Regent's Park, and spending hours there himself. Finally, in September 1869, he was to acquire the earliest of 2 pet wombats. This short-lived wombat, named "Top", was often brought to the dinner table and allowed to sleep in the large centrepiece during meals. This fascination with exotic animals continued throughout Rossetti's life, finally culminating in the purchase of a llama and a Toucan which Rossetti would dress in a cowboy hat and persuade to ride the llama round the dining table for his amusement.[22]

Rossetti maintained Cornforth (described delicately by William Allington as Rossetti's "housekeeper")[23] in her own establishment nearby in Chelsea, and painted many voluptuous images of her between 1863 and 1865.[24] In 1865 he discovered auburn-haired Alex Wilding, a dressmaker and would-be actress who was engaged to model for him on a full-time basis and sat for "The Blessed Damozel" and other paintings of the period.[25] Jane Morris, whom Rossetti had found as a model for the Oxford Union murals he painted with William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in 1857, also sat for him during these years, and she soon "consumed and obessed him in paint, poetry, and life".[25] In 1869, Morris and Rossetti rented a country house, Kelmscott Manor at Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, as a summer home, but it soon became a retreat for Rossetti and Jane Morris to have a long-lasting and complicated liaison. The couple spent summers there, with the Morris children, while Morris himself traveled to Iceland in 1871 and 1873.[26]

During these years, Rossetti was prevailed upon by friends, in particular Charles Augustus Howell, to exhume his poems from his wife's grave. This he did, collating and publishing them in 1870 in the volume Poems by D.G. Rossetti. They created a controversy when they were attacked by poet and critic Robert Buchanan as the epitome of the "fleshly school of poetry". The eroticism and sensuality of the poems caused offence. One poem, "Nuptial Sleep", described a couple falling asleep after sex. This was part of Rossetti's sonnet sequence The House of Life, a complex series of poems tracing the physical and spiritual development of an intimate relationship. Rossetti described the sonnet form as a "moment's monument", implying that it sought to contain the feelings of a fleeting moment, and to reflect upon their meaning. The House of Life was a series of interacting monuments to these moments - an elaborate whole made from a mosaic of intensely described fragments. This was Rossetti's most substantial literary achievement. In 1881, Rossetti published a 2nd volume of poems, Ballads and Sonnets, which included the remaining sonnets from The House of Life sequence.

Decline and deathEdit

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by George Frederic Watts

Portrait by George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), circa 1871. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The savage reaction of critics to Rossetti's debut collection of poetry contributed to a mental breakdown in June 1872, and although he joined Jane at Kelmscott that September, he "spent his days in a haze of chloral and whisky"[27] The next summer he was much improved, and both Alexa Wilding and Jane Morris sat for him at Kelmscott, where he created a soulful series of dream-like portraits.[27] In 1874, Morris reorganized his decorative arts firm, cutting Rossetti out of the business, and the polite fiction that both men were in residence with Jane at Kelmscott could not be maintained. Rossetti abruptly left Kelmscott in July 1874 and never returned.

Toward the end of his life, he sank into a morbid state, darkened by his drug addiction to chloral hydrate and increasing mental instability. He spent his last years as a recluse at Cheyne Walk. On Easter Sunday, 1882, he died at the country house of a friend, where he had gone in yet another vain attempt to recover his health, which had been destroyed by chloral as his wife's had been destroyed by laudanum.

He is buried at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England. His grave is visited regularly by admirers of his life's work and achievements and this can be seen by fresh flowers placed there regularly.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828 1882 Painter & Poet

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828 1882 Painter & Poet

Rossetti's early poetry was influenced by John Keats. His later poetry was characterised by the complex interlinking of thought and feeling, especially in his sonnet sequence The House of Life. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work; he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures, from The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) to Astarte Syriaca (1877), one of his last completed works.

Critical introductionEdit

by Walter Pater

It was characteristic of a poet who had ever something about him of mystic isolation, and will still appeal perhaps, though with a name it may seem now established in English literature, to a special and limited audience, that some of his poems had won a kind of exquisite fame before they were in the full sense published. "The Blessed Damozel", although actually printed twice before the year 1870, was eagerly circulated in manuscript; and the volume which it now opens came at last to satisfy a long-standing curiosity as to the poet, whose pictures also had become an object of the same peculiar kind of interest. For those poems were the work of a painter, understood to belong to, and to be indeed the leader, of a new school then rising into note; and the reader of to-day may observe already,in "The Blessed Damozel", written at the age of 18, a prefigurement of the chief characteristics of that school, as he will recognize in it also, in proportion as he really knows Rossetti, many of the characteristics which are most markedly personal and his own.

Common to that school and to him, and in both alike of primary significance, was the quality of sincerity, already felt as one of the charms of that earliest poem—a perfect sincerity, taking effect in the deliberate use of the most direct and unconventional expression, for the conveyance of a poetic sense which recognised no conventional standard of what poetry was called upon to be.

At a time when poetic originality in England might seem to have had its utmost play, here was certainly another new poet, with a structure and music of verse, a vocabulary, an accent, unmistakeably novel, yet felt to be no mere tricks of manner adopted with a view to forcing attention — an accent which might rather count as the very seal of reality on one man’s own proper speech; as that speech itself was the wholly natural expression of certain wonderful things he really felt and saw. Here was a poet who had a matter to present to his readers, or to himself at least, so valuable, so real and definite, that his primary aim, as regards form or expression in his verse, would be but its exact equivalence to those data within.

That he had this gift of transparency in language — the control of a style which did but obediently shift and shape itself to the mental motion, as a well-trained hand can follow on the tracing paper the outline of an original drawing below it, was proved afterwards by a volume of typically perfect translations from the delightful but difficult ‘early Italian poets’: such transparency being indeed the secret of all genuine style, of all such style as can truly belong to one man and not to another. His own meaning was always personal and even recondite, in a certain sense learned and casuistical, sometimes complex or obscure; but the term was always, one could see, deliberately chosen from many competitors, as the just transcript of that peculiar phase of soul which he alone knew, precisely as he knew it.

A peculiarity of "The Blessed Damozel" was a definiteness of sensible imagery, which seemed almost grotesque to some, and was strange, above all, in a theme so profoundly visionary. The gold bar of heaven from which she leaned, her hair yellow like ripe corn, are but examples of a general treatment, as naively detailed as the pictures of those early painters contemporary with Dante, who has shown a similar care for minute and definite imagery in his verse; there, too, in the very midst of profoundly mystic vision.

Such definition of outline is indeed one among many points in which Rossetti resembles the great Italian poet, of whom, led to him initially by family circumstances, he was ever a lover—‘a servant and singer,’ as faithful, as Dante ‘of Florence and of Beatrice’—with some close inward conformities of genius, independent of any mere circumstances of education. It was said by a critic of the last century, not wisely though agreeably to the practice of his time, that poetry rejoices in abstractions. For Rossetti, as for Dante, without question on his part, the most fundamental condition of the poetic way of seeing and presenting things is particularisation. ‘Tell me now,’ he writes, for Villon’s

  ‘Dictes-moy où, n’en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine’—
‘Tell me now, in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman:’

—‘way,’ in which someone might actually chance to meet her; the unmistakably poetic effect of the couplet in English being dependent on the definiteness of that single word (though actually lighted on in the search after a difficult double rhyme) for which everyone else would have written, like Villon himself, a more general one, just equivalent to place or region.

And this delight in concrete definition is allied with another of his conformities to Dante, the really imaginative vividness, namely, of his personifications—his hold upon them, or rather their hold upon him, with the force of a Frankenstein, when once they have taken life from him. Not Death only and Sleep, for instance, and the winged spirit of Love, but certain particular aspects of them, a whole ‘populace’ of special hours and places, ‘the hour’ even ‘which might have been, yet might not be,’ are living creatures, with hands and eyes and articulate voices.

  ‘Stands it not by the door—
  Love’s Hour—till she and I shall meet;
With bodiless form and unapparent feet
  That cast no shadow yet before,
Though round its head the dawn begins to pour
    The breath that makes day sweet?’—
                        ‘Nay, why
Name the dead hours? I mind them well:
Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
  With desolate eyes to know them by.’

Poetry as a mania — one of Plato’s 2 higher forms of ‘divine’ mania — has, in all its species, a mere insanity incidental to it, the ‘defect of its quality,’ into which it may lapse in its moment of weakness: and the insanity which follows a vivid poetic anthropomorphism like that of Rossetti may be noted here and there in his work, in a forced and almost grotesque materialising of abstractions, as Dante also became at times a mere subject of the scholastic realism of the Middle Age.

In "Love’s Nocturn" and "The Stream’s Secret", congruously perhaps with a certain feverishness of soul in the moods they present, there is in places a near approach (may it be said?) to such insanity of realism—

  ‘Pity and love shall burn
  In her pressed cheek and cherishing hands;
And from the living spirit of love that stands
  Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
Each separate breath shall clasp me round in turn
    And loose my spirit’s bands.’

But even if we concede this,— if we allow, in the very plan of those 2 compositions, something of the literary conceit — what exquisite, what novel flowers of poetry, we must admit them to be, as they stand! In the one, what a delight in all the natural beauty of water, all its details for the eye of a painter; in the other, how subtle and fine the imaginative hold upon all the secret ways of sleep and dreams! In both of them, with much the same attitude and tone, Love—sick and doubtful Love—would fain inquire of what lies below the surface of sleep, and below the water; stream or dream being forced to speak by Love’s powerful ‘control’; and the poet would have it foretell the fortune, issue, and event of his wasting passion. Such artifices were not unknown in the old Provençal poetry of which Dante had learned something. Only, in Rossetti at least, they are redeemed by a serious purpose, by that sincerity of his, which allies itself readily to a serious beauty, a sort of grandeur of literary workmanship—to a great style. One seems to hear there a really new kind of poetic utterance, with effects which have nothing else like them; as there is nothing else, for instance, like the narrative of Jacob’s Dream, or Blake’s design of the Singing of the Morning Stars, or Addison’s Nineteenth Psalm.

With him indeed, as in some revival of the old mythopœic age, common things — dawn, noon, night — are full of human or personal expression, full of sentiment. The lovely little sceneries scattered up and down his poems, glimpses of a landscape, not indeed of broad open-air effects, but rather that of a painter concentrated upon the picturesque effect of a few selected objects — the "hollow brimmed with mist," or the "ruined weir," as he sees it from a window, or reflected in a mirror of his "house of life" (the vignettes for instance seen by Rose Mary in the magic beryl) attest, by their very freshness and simplicity, to a pictorial or descriptive power in dealing with the inanimate world, which is certainly still one half of the charm, in that other, more remote and mystic, use of it. For with Rossetti this sense of, after all lifeless, nature, is translated to a higher service, in which it does but incorporate itself with some phase of strong emotion.

Every one understands how this may happen at critical moments of life; what a weirdly expressive soul may have crept, even in full noonday, into ‘the white-flower’d elder-thicket,’ when Godiva saw it ‘gleam through the Gothic archways in the wall,’ at the end of her ride. To Rossetti it is so always, because to him life is a crisis at every moment. A sustained impressibility towards the mysterious conditions of man’s every-day life, towards the very mystery itself in it, gives a singular gravity to all his work: those matters never became trite to him. But throughout, it is the ideal intensity of love—of love based upon a perfect yet peculiar type of physical or material beauty, which is enthroned in the midst of those mysterious powers; Youth and Death, Destiny and Fortune, Fame — Poetic Fame, Memory, Oblivion, and the like. Rossetti is one of those who, in the words of Mérimée, se passionnent pour la passion, one of Love’s lovers.

And yet, again as with Dante, to speak of his ideal type of beauty as material, is partly misleading. Spirit and matter indeed have been for the most part opposed, with a false contrast or antagonism, by schoolmen, whose artificial creation those abstractions really are. In our actual concrete experience, the 2 trains of phenomena which they do but roughly distinguish, play inextricably into each other. Practically, the church of the Middle Age by its æsthetic worship, its sacramentalism, its real faith in the resurrection of the flesh, had set itself against that Manichean opposition of spirit and matter, and its results in men’s way of taking life; and in this, Dante is the central representative of its spirit. To him, in the vehement and impassioned heat of his conceptions, the material and the spiritual are fused and blent: if the spiritual attains the definite character of a crystal, what is material loses its earthiness and impurity. And here again, by force of instinct, Rossetti is one with him. His chosen type of beauty is one,

  ‘Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought,
Nor Love her body from her soul.’

Like Dante, he knows no region of spirit which shall not be sensuous also, or material. The shadowy world, which he realises so powerfully, has still the ways and houses, the land and water, the light and darkness, the fire and flowers, that had so much to do in the moulding of those bodily powers and aspects which counted for so large a part of the soul, here.

For Rossetti, then, the great affections of persons to each other, swayed and determined, in the case of his highly pictorial genius, mainly by that so-called material loveliness, formed the great undeniable reality in things, the solid resisting substance, in a world where all beside might be but shadow. The fortunes of those affections—of the great love so determined; its casuistries, its languor sometimes; above all, its sorrows; its fortunate or unfortunate collisions with those other great matters; how it looks, as the long day of life goes round, in the light and shadow of them—that, conceived with an abundant imagination, and a deep, a philosophic reflectiveness, is the matter of his verse, and especially of what he designed as his chief poetic work, ‘a work to be called The House of Life,’ towards which the majority of his sonnets and songs were contributions.

The dwelling-place in which one finds oneself by chance or destiny, yet can partly fashion for oneself; never properly one’s own at all, if it be changed too lightly; in which every object has its associations—the dim mirrors, the portraits, the lamps, the books, the hair-tresses of the dead and visionary magic crystals in the secret drawers, the names and words scratched on the windows—windows open upon prospects the saddest or the sweetest—the house which one must quit, yet taking perhaps how much of its quietly active light and colour along with us!—grown now to be a kind of raiment to one’s body, as the body, according to Swedenborg, is but the raiment of the soul—under that image, the whole of Rossetti’s work might count as a House of Life, of which he is but the ‘Interpreter.’

And it is a ‘haunted’ house. A sense of power in love, defying distance, and those barriers which are so much more than physical distance—of unutterable desire penetrating into the world of sleep, however lead-bound, was one of those anticipative notes obscurely struck in "The Blessed Damozel," and, in his later work, makes him speak sometimes almost like a believer in mesmerism. Dream-land, as we said, with its ‘phantoms of the body,’ deftly coming and going on love’s service, is to him, in no mere fancy or figure of speech, a real country, a veritable expansion of, or addition to, our waking life; and he did well perhaps to wait carefully upon sleep, the lack of which became mortal disease with him. One may recognise even a sort of over-hasty and morbid making ready for death itself, which increases on him; the thoughts and imageries of it coming with a frequency and importunity, in excess, one might think, of even the very saddest, quite wholesome wisdom.

And indeed the publication of his 2nd volume of Ballads and Sonnets preceded his death by scarcely a twelvemonth. That volume bears witness to the reverse of any failure of power or falling-off from his early standard of literary perfection, in every one of his then accustomed forms of poetry—the song, the sonnet, and the ballad. The newly printed sonnets, now completing the House of Life, certainly advanced beyond those earlier ones, in clearness; his dramatic power in the ballad, was here at its height; while a monumental lyrical piece, "Soothsay," testifies, more clearly even than the "Nineveh" of his debut volume, to the reflective force, the dry reason, always at work behind his imaginative creations, which at no time dispensed with a genuine intellectual structure. For in matters of pure reflection also, Rossetti maintained the painter’s sensuous clearness of conception; and this has something to do with the capacity, largely illustrated by his ballads, of telling some red-hearted story of impassioned action with effect.

Were there indeed ages, in which the external conditions of poetry such as Rossetti’s were of more spontaneous growth than in our own? The archaic side of Rossetti’s work, his preferences in regard to earlier poetry, connect him with those who have certainly thought so, who fancied they could have breathed more largely in the age of Chaucer, or of Ronsard, in one of those ages, in the words of Stendhal—ces siècles de passions ou les âmes pouvaient se livrer franchement à la plus haute exaltation, quand les passions qui font la possibilité comme les sujets des beaux arts existaient. We may think, perhaps, that such old time as that has never really existed except in the fancy of poets; but it was to find it, that Rossetti turned so often from modern life to the chronicle of the past. Old Scotch history, perhaps beyond any other, is strong in the matter of heroic and vehement hatreds and love, the tragic Mary herself being but the perfect blossom of them; and it is from that history that Rossetti has taken the subjects of the 2 longer ballads of his 2nd volume: of the 3 admirable ballads in it, "The King’s Tragedy" (in which Rossetti has dexterously interwoven some relics of James’s own exquisite early verse) reaching the highest level of dramatic success, and marking perfection, perhaps, in this kind of poetry; which, in the earlier volume, gave us, among other pieces, "Troy Town," "Sister Helen," and "Eden Bower".

Like those earlier pieces, the ballads of the 2nd volume bring with them the question of the poetic value of the ‘refrain’—

  ‘Eden bower ’s in flower:
And O the bower and the hour!’

— and the like. 2 of those ballads — "Troy Town" and "Eden Bower" — are terrible in theme; and the refrain serves, perhaps, to relieve their bold aim at the sentiment of terror. In Sister Helen again, it has a real, sustained purpose (being here duly varied also) and performs the part of a chorus, as the story proceeds. Yet even in these cases, whatever its effect may be in actual recitation, it may indeed be questioned, whether, to the mere reader their actual effect is not that of a positive interruption and drawback, at least in pieces so lengthy; and Rossetti himself, it would seem, came to think so, for in the shortest of his later ballads. The White Ship—that old true history of the generosity with which a youth, worthless in life, flung himself upon death—he has contented himself with a single utterance of the refrain, ‘given out’ like the key-note or tune of a chant.

In "The King’s Tragedy", Rossetti has worked upon a motive, broadly human, in the phrase of popular criticism, such as one and all may realise. Rossetti, indeed, with all his self-concentration upon his own circle of work, by no means ignored those general interests which are external to poetry as he conceived it; as he has shown here and there, in this poetic, as also in pictorial, work. It was but that, in a life to be shorter even than the average, he found enough to occupy him in the fulfilment of a task, plainly ‘given him to do.’ Perhaps, if therew as a need to name a single composition of his to a reader who desired to make his acquaintance, it is "The King’s Tragedy" — that poem so moving, so popularly dramatic and lifelike. Notwithstanding this, his work, it must be conceded, certainly through no narrowness or egotism, but in the faithfulness of a true workman to a vocation so emphatic, was mainly of the esoteric order. But poetry, at all times, exercises 2 distinct functions: it may reveal, it may unveil to every eye, the ideal aspects of common things, after Gray’s way (though Gray too, it is well to remember, seemed in his own day, seemed even to Johnson, obscure) or it may actually add to the number of motives poetic and uncommon in themselves, by the imaginative creation of things, ideal from their very birth. Rossetti did something, something excellent, of the former kind; but his characteristic, his really revealing work, lay in the adding to poetry of fresh poetic material, of a new order of phenomena, in the creation of a new ideal.[28]

Critical assessmentEdit

The popularity, frequent reproduction, and general availability of Rossetti's later paintings of women have led to association with "a morbid and langourous sensuality"[29] His small-scale early works and drawings are less well known, but it is in these that his originality, technical inventiveness, and significance in the movement away from Academic tradition can best be seen.[30] As Roger Fry wrote in 1916, "Rossetti more than any other artist since Blake may be hailed as a forerunner of the new ideas" in English Art.[31]


His poem "The Blessed Damozel" was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[32]


Tate Britain, Birmingham, Manchester and Salford Museum and Art Galleries all contain large collections of Rossetti's work; the latter was bequeathed a number of works following the death of L.S. Lowry in 1976. Lowry was president of the Newcastle-based 'Rossetti Society', which was founded in 1966.[33] Lowry's private collection of works was chiefly built around Rossetti's paintings and sketches of Lizzie Siddal and Jane Morris, and notable pieces included Pandora, Proserpine and a drawing of Annie Miller. In an interview with Mervyn Levy, Lowry explained his fascination with the Rossetti women in relation to his own work: "I don't like his women at all, but they fascinate me, like a snake. That's why I always buy Rossetti whenever I can. His women are really rather horrible. It's like a friend of mine who says he hates my work, although it fascinates him."[34] The friend Lowry referred to was businessman Monty Bloom, to whom he also explained his obsession with Rossetti's portraits: "They are not real women [...] They are dreams [...] He used them for something in his mind caused by the death of his wife. I may be quite wrong there, but significantly they all came after the death of his wife."[35]

In popular cultureEdit

Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed in Ken Russell's film Dante's Inferno (1967). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as a whole have been the subjects of 2 BBC period dramas: The Love School (1975), starring Ben Kingsley as Rossetti; and Desperate Romantics, in which Rossetti is played by Aidan Turner, broadcast on BBC 2 on Tuesday, 21 July 2009.[36]


Poemstrans18501800ross 0001


  • Sir Hugh the Heron. London: privately printed by G. Polidori, 1843.
  • Poems. London: Ellis, 1870; 2nd, 3rd, 4th edition, 1870; 5th edition, 1871; 6th edition, 1872;
    • published in U.S. as Poems. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870.
  • Love–Lily, and other songs (by Rossetti and Edward Dannreuther). London: Novello, Ewer, 1877.[37]
  • Poems: A new edition. London: Strangeways, 1881. London: Ellis & White, 1881.
  • Ballads and Sonnets. London: Ellis, 1881.


  • Hand and Soul. London: privately printed by Strangeways & Walden, 1869.


Collected editionsEdit

  • Collected Works (edited by William Michael Rossetti). (2 volumes). London: Ellis & Elvey, 1890. Volume I; Volume II.
  • Collected Writings (edited by Jan Marsh}. Chicago: New Amsterdam, 2000.
  • Collected Poetry and Prose (edited by Jerome J. McGann). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.


  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His family-letters (edited by William G. Rossetti). (2 volumes), London: Ellis & Elvey, 1895; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1895.
    • New York: AMS Press, 1970.
  • Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Allingham, 1854-1870 (edited by George Birkbeck Norman Hill). London: T.F. Unwin, 1897.
  • The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to his Publisher, F.S. Ellis (edited by Oswald Doughty). London: Scholartis Press, 1928.
  • Letters (edited by Oswald Doughty & John Robert Wahl). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Volume I: 1835-1860, 1965; Volume II: 1861-1870, 1965; Volume III: 1871-1876, 1967; Volume IV: 1877-1882, 1967.
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris: Their correspondence (edited by John Bryson). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1976.
  • Dear Mr. Rossetti: The correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine, 1878-1881 (edited by Vivien Allen). Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
  • 'Correspondence: The formative years, 1835-1862 (edited by William E. Fredeman). Cambridge, UK, & Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2002.[38] Volume I: 1835-1854; Volume II: 1855-1862.
    • The chelsea years, 1863-1872 (edited by William E. Fredeman). Volume II: prelude to crisis, 1863-1867, 2003.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[38]

Poems by Dante Gabriel RossettiEdit

The Blessed Damozel - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Blessed Damozel - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A Little While by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A Little While by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Jenny by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1870) - read by Charlotte Rose Wright

Jenny by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1870) - read by Charlotte Rose Wright

Body's Beauty - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Body's Beauty - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

  1. The Blessed Damozel

See alsoEdit


  • Russell Ash, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: Pavilion Books ISBN 978-1857934120; New York: Abrams, 1995. ISBN 978-1857939507.
  • Doughty, Oswald, A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti London: Frederick Muller, 1949.
  • Fredeman, William E. (1971). Prelude to the last decade: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the summer of 1872. Manchester [Eng.]: The John Rylands Library.
  • Fredeman, William E. (Ed.) (2002-8) The correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 7 Vols. Brewer, Cambridge.
  • Hilto, Timoth (1970). The Pre-Raphelites. London: Thames and Hudson, New York: Abrams.
  • Marsh, Jan (1996). The Pre-Raphaelites: Their Lives in Letters and Diaries. London: Collins & Brown.
  • McGann, J. J. (2000). Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the game that must be lost. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Parry, Linda (1996), ed., William Morris. New York: Abrams, ISBN 0-8109-4282-8.
  • Rohde, Shelley, (2000) L.S. Lowry: A Biography; Lowry Press, Salford Quays
  • Rossetti, D. G., & Marsh, J. (2000). Collected writings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books.
  • Simons, J. (2008). Rossetti's Wombat: Pre-Raphaelites and Australian animals in Victorian London. London: Middlesex University Press.
  • Treuherz, Julian, Prettejohn, Elizabeth, and Becker, Edwin (2003). Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0500093164.
  • Todd, Pamela (2001). Pre-Raphaelites at Home, New York: Watson-Giptill Publications, ISBN 0823042855.


  1. John William Cousin, "Rossetti, Dante Gabriel," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 322. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 23, 2018.
  2. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A hypermedia archive, The Rossetti Archive, Web, Oct. 13, 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Treuherz et al. (2003), pp. 15-18
  4. 4.0 4.1 Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 19
  5. Hilton (1970), p. 26
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 22
  7. Hilton (1970), pp. 31-35
  8. Quoted in Marsh (1996), p. 21
  9. Marsh (1996), p. 21
  10. Marsh (1996), p. 17
  11. Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 33
  12. Treuherz et al. (2003), pp. 175-176
  13. Treuherz et al. (2003), pp. 39−41
  14. 14.0 14.1 Dictionary of National Biography (1909), "Edward Burne-Jones"
  15. 15.0 15.1 Dictionary of National Biography (1901), "William Morris"
  16. Watkinson, Ray, "Painting" in Parry (1996), p. 93
  17. Parry, William Morris, p. 14-16
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 52-54
  19. Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 64
  20. Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 80
  21. Todd (2001), p. 107
  22. National Library of Australia
  23. Todd (2001), p. 109
  24. Todd (2001), p. 113
  25. 25.0 25.1 Todd (2001), p. 116
  26. Todd (2001), pp. 123-130
  27. 27.0 27.1 Todd (2001), pp. 128-129
  28. from Walter Pater, "Critical Introduction: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Mar. 20, 2016.
  29. Treuherz et al. (2003), p. 12
  30. Treuherz et al. (2003), 16.
  31. Quoted in Treuherz et al. (2003), 12.
  32. "The Blessed Damozel". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 6, 2012.
  33. Rohde (2000). p.396
  34. Rohde (2000), p.276
  35. Rohde (2000) p.276
  36. "BBC Desperate Romantics". 
  37. Rossetti Archive Bibliography, Rossetti Archive, Web, Oct. 13, 2012.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Search results = au:Dante Gabriel Rossetti, WorldCat, OClC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 3, 2013.

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