The Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On April 8, 1826, Gabriele Giuseppe Rossetti married Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori in a Catholic ceremony. For the benefit of her family, they repeated their vows two days later with an Anglican ceremony in the Church of England. Gabriele Rossetti, a poet, lived in England due to his exile from Italy over controversies that arose from his political verses. Frances Polidori's father was an Italian expatriate, and her mother was English. Her brother was John William Polidori, author of The Vampyre. He was also the physician of Lord Byron who referred to him as "A young man more likely to contract diseases than to cure them" (Riede,6). After their marriage, the Rossettis moved into a house at No. 38, Charlotte Street, (later changed to 110 Hallam Street), Portland Place, London, where they had four children.

The second born of the Rossettis, born on May 12, 1828, was christened Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti. He is now known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet and painter. The Rossettis other siblings included, older sister Maria, younger brother William, and younger sister Christina, who is also well known for her poetry.

Rossetti took an early interest in art in his childhood. He began school in 1836 at Mr. Paul's Day School in Portland Place. The following year, he transferred to King's College School and in 1842 to 1846, he attended Cary's Academy of Art. He furthered his artistic education by attending the royal Academy Antique School in 1846.

Rossetti found school to be inhibiting and left in 1847 to concentrate his activities on his art. He admired the work of Ford Madox Brown and sent him a fan letter to that effect. Brown who was unaccustomed to receiving fan letters, assumed Rossetti was simply being sarcastic. He went to the Rossetti home with the intent of beating him with a "stick" over the head. Upon meeting Rossetti, however, he realized he was actually sincere. A lifetime friendship ensued. Brown became a mentor for Rossetti and Rossetti became an eager student.

Later that year, Rossetti penned one of his most well known poems, "The Blessed Damozel." He was 18 at the time. In this poem, Rossetti attempts to combine the physical and the spiritual. The poem illustrates Rossetti's belief in human love being one of life's greatest values. Rossetti's later poems and paintings also relate his view of the importance of human love. They display his love for the physical and the beautiful. He writes and paints the beauty of a woman's body, especially her face. He was enamored with his "idealized women" among them: Elizabeth Siddal, Ruth Herbert, Annie Miller, and the most famous Janey Morris. The later painting of the "Blessed Damozel" in 1877, illustrates the beauty he finds in women and his feelings of the importance of physical bonds to exist between lovers.

In 1848, Rossetti joined with William Holman Hunt, John Everette Millais, James Collinson, Thomas Woolner, Frederic Stephens, and William Rossetti to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These men had similar beliefs in the way art should be expressed. They combined some of the Romantic free-spirited ideals into the more reserved tendencies of the Victorian age. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood publishedThe Germ where the poets could express their views of nature through poetry, literature, and other expressions of art.

Rossetti's published works include: The Early Italian Poets, Poems, A Sonnet Sequence and House of Life. His exhibited paintings included, "The Girlhood of Mary Virgin" displayed at the Free Exhibition in London, and "Ecce Ancilla Domini", which was exhibited at the National Institution. As a painter, Rossetti also was able to join with William Morris, Edward Jones, and Algernon Swinburne, among others to paint murals in the Oxford Union. He also created the illustrations and jacket design for Christina Rossetti's collection of poems, Goblin Market.

In 1850, Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal who became his wife in 1860. Siddal was one of the original models for the Pre- Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1861 they suffered through the traumatic event of a stillborn child. Siddal was never able to recover from her emotional distress and took her own life February 10, 1862. Rossetti, himself suffering from emotional distress, buried his manuscripts with her and moved to 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea where he resided with Swinburne. In tribute to his wife, he painted "Beata Beatrix."

Amidst extreme controversy, Rossetti later went through the needed legal steps to have Siddall's body exhumed in order to recover his manuscripts for publication. He justified his actions in a letter to Swinburne: "'No one so much as herself would have approved of my doing this. Art was the only thing for which she felt very seriously. Had it been possible to her, I should have found the book on my pillow the night she was buried; and could she have opened the grave, no other hand would have been needed'" (letters, 2:761, Riede, 89).

Rossetti suffered another emotional blow upon the publication in 1871 of Robert Buchanan's, The Fleshy School of Poetry: Mr. D.G. Rossetti. Buchanan criticized Rossetti's writings on moral grounds. Rossetti Rebuked Buchanan's remarks by responding with The Stealthy School of Criticism. An enlarged pamphlet of Buchanan's attack was published in 1872. Later that same year, Rossetti suffered a physical and mental breakdown.

He did republish The Early Italian Poets as Dante and His Circle in 1864 and published Ballads and Sonnets in 1881, but was limited in his professional capabilities at that time. He was never able to fully recover from his illnesses and died at Burchington, Kent, Easter Sunday, April 9, 1882.

At the time of his death, Rossetti was in extreme financial debt. His brother, William, tried to keep his funeral arrangements quiet from creditors and unwanted guests such as Fanny Cornforth, one of Rossetti's models, who at one time was linked romantically to Rossetti. A check that William was hoping to clear through the bank from Rossetti's account to cover funeral expenses was in fact, refused. The cemetery, Highgate, in which Siddal was buried refused to bury the remains of Rossetti. He was buried in the Burchington Churchyard.

Rossetti was remembered after his death by several works of literature including a sonnet by his sister Christina, "Birchington Churchyard"; "In Russet and Silver", by Edmund Gosse; and "A Death on Easter Day", by Swinburne.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
May 12, 1828 - April 9, 1882