Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born in 1828, was brilliant, depressed, obsessive, irrational, impulsive, and quite original. Born into an academic family, DGR entered the Royal Academy to study art, but left a year later, dissatisfied with the philosophy of art taught there. With a number of other artists from the mid-1800s, he started the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which focused on a more natural style of art, with moral themes from myth and legend. It was a controversial school, often the subject of ridicule, but from it emerged works that seem to touch something in many people that yearns for an idealized world. More below.

Astarte Syriaca

Jane Morris as Astarte, the Mesopotamian goddess of fertility. A kind site visitor tells us that "Syriaca" is an adjective meaning "Syrian."


Monna Pomona

Lady Lilith



This painting is described in Rossetti's poem "Lilith." Interestingly, most versions of this painting show a different face. It was first painted as you see it here, and finished in 1866 or 1867. However, Rossetti repainted it with a different face in 1873, following one of his illnesses.

Bower Meadow



This image shows classic Pre-Raphaelite idealization: a beautiful outdoor scene, maidens dancing. (Interestingly, the landscape was painted 22 years before the women were added.)

The Pre-Raphaelites seem to have dropped out of art history. Their art was characterized as trite, contrived, and idealized. In fact, we have a book by Max Beerbohm called Rossetti and His Circle, that seems to consist of nothing but annotated cartoons mocking the Pre-Raphaelites. Even Gilbert & Sullivan's lampooned the era, and especially Oscar Wilde, in their under-appreciated Patience, of Bunthorne's Bride.

The Art Renewal Center's page on philosophy has much to say about that reputation. In no uncertain terms.

So, why are we saying this? Well, because we do think that the image on the left might be an example of some of the less-deal aspects of Pre-Raphaelite art. It's lovely, but awfully posed. But something about the style has certainly entered the public consciousness.

These pages discuss the era and the controversy:


Bio continued

During his painting career, DGR had many models, among whom were two great models, or "stunners." He was in love with and obssessed with both, and both were also frequent models for the other Pre-Raphaelites. The first was Elizabeth Siddal, who was also an artist. They inspired each other's work, and eventually moved in together. After an engagement of over a decade, they finally married, possibly for appearances. Lizzie Siddal died of an overdose of laudanum, probably self inflicted as a result of the emotional tumult of living with DGR. After her death he continued to idealize her, eventually painting "Beata Beatrix" from memory.

His second great model was Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, who opitomized the female ideal of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Born to the lower classes, but elevated because of her extraordinary looks, she became his muse for years. She was a deeply silent woman who cared deeply for him and was able to tolerate his moodiness. The two spent a great deal of time together, with the apparent consent of her husband, who was often out of the country for long stretches. Out of this period came many of his more brilliant works.

In his later years he abused ether, or chloral, which eventually caused Jane and William Morris to separate from him. The ether eventually destroyed his health, and he died in 1882, at the home of a friend.


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