Biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born on May 12, 1828, in London to Italian parents. Rossetti came from a family of intellectuals and artists: his father was a Dante scholar, his oldest sister published A Shadow of Dante (1871), his brother was an active member of the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, and his youngest sister gained acclaim for her lyric poetry. Rossetti gained his early education through private tutoring at home. In 1845, when he was 17 years old, Rossetti began his project of translating Italian and German medieval poetry. He wrote many of his most famous poems, including "My Sister's Sleep," "The Blessed Damozel," and "Jenny," when he was in his late teens.

Rossetti identified himself as both a painter and a poet throughout his career. In 1948, 20-year-old Rossetti co-founded a society called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with six other artists. They sought to revolutionize contemporary art and do away with certain stale conventions. Their art generally centered around strong themes and was more colorful and more delicately detailed than previous British art. The artists banded together and created a network of support, encouragement, and criticism in the early stages of their careers. They also defended each other against public antagonism in the face of their new and never-seen-before artistic style. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded a literary journal, The Germ, which published Rossetti's poetry, along with the poetry of his siblings and other influential literary figures, beginning in the year 1850.

In the late 1840s, Rossetti met Elizabeth Elanor Siddal, "Lizzie," who was his artistic muse. She would later become his wife. Rossetti's most famous paintings and drawings are in fact portraits of her. When Rossetti and Lizzie lost their child in 1862, Lizzie committed suicide. As a tribute to his late wife, Rossetti placed a manuscript of his poetry within her grave.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Rossetti's reputation grew rapidly. In those years, he met Jane Burden, who became his life-long muse and mistress. Even though Rossetti introduced Burden to her eventual husband, William Morris, he maintained an affair with her throughout the years. Scholars are unclear about how much Morris knew about Rossetti's relationship with Burden, but several agree that he knew about the affair and in a sense sanctioned it. Rossetti's portraits of Burden, in crayon, pencil, and oil, are considered his best artistic work. During his relationship with Burden, Rossetti was also a prolific poet. He published some of his most famous work, including "Jenny," "Dante at Verona," and "A Last Confession," during his relationship with her

It wasn't until Rossetti was 41 years old, in 1868, when he tried to publish his first volume of poems. He employed a group of his friends to recover the manuscript from Lizzie's grave. The book, Poems, was published in 1870 and received wide critical acclaim. However, in 1871, the Contemporary Review published an article which attacked Rossetti and his group for their indulgence and sensual lust. The author of the review, Robert Buchanan, criticized the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood as being under "The Fleshly School of Poetry."

This pamphlet deeply affected Rossetti's personal life. He became much more wary of others and withdrew into solitude, suffering from intense anxiety and depression. He became addicted to chloral hydrate, which caused his body to deteriorate quickly and forced him to shut himself away from the rest of society. As Macht and Gessford describe in "The Unfortunate Drug Experiences of Dante Gabriel Rossetti," Rossetti "dwelt in lonely, musty rooms hung with heavy drapes that shut out the sweet fresh air and light of day and shunned all human society except for that of his friends." In the same article, Macht and Gessford characterize Rossetti as extremely volatile and emotional: "Of his highly emotional character, we need no further proof than his extraordinary conduct in burying his manuscript with his wife and the disinterment of the poems at a later date. His extreme sensitivity to criticism is a further proof of his unstable emotional makeup."

In 1872, Rossetti suffered a mental breakdown. He was taken to a friend's home where he attempted to commit suicide. He spent the summer recovering, and by 1873, he began writing more poetry. In 1881 Rossetti sold one of his most famous and largest paintings, Dante's Dream, to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. He died of blood poisoning from uric acid on April 9, 1882.


Study Guides on Works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote "The Blessed Damozel" when he was 19 years old. It was one of the very first poems of his career, and it later became one of the most influential poems of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The first version of "The Blessed...

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born to a Italian family in London, England in 1828. Coming from a successful family, his brother William Michael Rossetti and sisters Christina Rossetti and Maria Francesca Rossetti all became famous writers. Rossetti...

"Jenny" is quite a long poem that has thirty-four stanzas. It is inspired by one of the scenes from Shakespeare's play called The Merry Wives of Windsor. It is a scene where one of the characters Mistress Quickly does a play of words. The scene...

"Sudden Light" is a poem written by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the 1850s but published over a decade later in Poems: An Offering to Lancashire in the 1863 volume. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was not only a British poet, but also a painter and artist who...

Dante Gabriel Rossetti first published “The Woodspurge” in its final stage under the section “Songs” in his 1870 collection The House of Life. With the publication of 1881’s Poems: A New Edition, “The Woodspurge” is removed from its connection to...