Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828–1882)
English author and painter Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti,
commonly known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was born in London,
May 12, 1828. His father was an Italian who had settled
in England.
While yet a boy, Rossetti manifested artistic talent, and accordingly
was sent to study drawing under John Sell Cotman,
Shortly afterward he entered the Royal Academy Schools. In
1848, he commenced working in the studio of Ford Madox
Brown, during which time he began to show himself a painter
of distinct individuality, while simultaneously he made his first
essays in translating Italian literature into English and became
known among his friends as a poet of rare promise.
Meanwhile, however, Rossetti was really more interested in
painting rather than writing, and soon after leaving Brown’s
studio he brought about a memorable event in the history of
English painting by founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,
a body consisting of seven members, whose central aim was to
render precisely and literally every separate object figured in
their pictures. Leaving his father’s house in 1849, Rossetti went
to live at Chatham Place, Blackfriars Bridge, London, and during
the next ten years his activity as a painter was enormous.
The year 1860 was a notable one in his career, as it marked
his marriage to Eleanor Siddal. The love between the pair was
of an exceptionally passionate order, and from it sprang Rossetti’s
later sonnet sequence called The House of Life, published
in 1881. However, Eleanor died in 1862. The loss of his wife
preyed upon him persistently; he was tortured by insomnia
and, in consequence, began to take occasional doses of the drug
chloral. Gradually this practice developed into a habit, and it
soon became evident that his death was imminent unless he
gave up his addiction to the drug. He died April 9, 1882, at Birchington,
near Margate, and his remains were interred in the
cemetery there.
Rossetti had a marked bias for mysticism in various forms.
William Bell Scott, in his Autobiographical Notes (2 vols., 1892),
told how the poet became at one time much enamored of tableturning.
His temperament was undoubtedly a very religious
one, and once toward the close of his life he declared that he
had ‘‘seen and heard those that died long ago.’’
A belief in the possibility of communicating with the dead
may have induced him on his wife’s death to have some of his
love poems enclosed in her coffin. Whatever the truth of his
poems, it is by his painting rather than by his poetry that Rossetti
holds a place as a great mystic, for despite his fondness for
precise handling, most of his pictures are essentially of a mystical
nature. They embody the scenes and incidents beheld in
dreams in a manner similar to the work of William Blake.