Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the most important and original artistic forces in the second half of the nineteenth century in Great Britain. He was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelites brotherhood, and the soul and main intellectual force of the whole movement.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born May 12, 1828, in London, England, to Gabriele Rossetti, an exiled Italian patriot and scholar, and Frances Polidori. As a young child, he showed an early literary talent, and later as a young adult, he won acclaim for his poem ‘The Blessed Damozel’ (1847).
Dante attended King's College School (1837-1842) and F. S. Cary's Academy of Art (1845-47). After college, he studied under Ford Madox Brown. Growing tired of the still life exercises Brown prompted him to do, he apprenticed himself to the livelier William Holman Hunt. Strong friendships were formed during this time between Hunt, John Millais and himself. All three shared a medieval sensibility to art, resulting in the launching of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s first major exhibition in 1849-1850 included ‘The Girlhood of Mary, Virgin’ and illustration ‘Ecce Ancilla Domini’, a portrait of Mary as an emaciated and repressed teenage girl. He began painting watercolors and selling them privately. Many of his subjects were chosen with regard to his admiration of Dante Alighieri's ‘Vita Nuova’ and Sir Thomas Malory's ‘Morte Darthur’.
The artist’s focus on romantic love was evident in both his poetry and painting. In 1850, he met Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, a milliner's assistant who became the subject for many of his paintings and sketches. After a ten year relationship, they finally married. While their love was strong, her health, which had always been frail, deteriorated. She suffered from neuralgia, a painful disorder of the cranial nerves that had plagued her for some time. Its long-term debilitating effects took her life after just two years of marriage. His love for her inspired the creation of ‘Beata Beatrix’ (1863).
During the mid 1850s, he was commissioned to cover the walls of the Oxford Debating Union with Arthurian murals. The artist married a second time to the delicately beautiful Lizzie Siddal after ten years of courting. She was a favorite model for all the Pre-Raphaelites, but soon became exclusively Rossetti's when they started to live together. Life changed dramatically for them when Lizzie gave birth to a still-born baby. On February 10, 1862, twenty months after the happy nuptials, Lizzie died of a drug overdose. Her grieving husband threw the poems he had been working on into her casket.
After her sudden death, Dante Gabriel Rossetti moved to Thames. He continued painting and writing poetry, gaining patrons, and becoming relatively prosperous. One of his models, Fanny Cornforth, featured in ‘Bocca Baciata’, ‘The Blue Bower’, and ‘Found’, became his mistress and housekeeper. He also employed Ruth Herbert, Annie Miller and Janey Morris as models.
In the late 1860s, Rossetti began to suffer from depression and insomnia. In the summer of 1872, he suffered a mental breakdown. Critical attacks on his poetry contributed in part to his morbid state of mind and his failed suicide attempt. Over time, his renewed interest in painting gave some the impression that there was hope for the artist, but his declining health eventually took his life. He died from kidney failure on April 9, 1882.