Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work; he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures, Rossetti's personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, and Jane Morris.

His first major paintings in oil display the realist qualities of the early Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was painting in oils with water-colour brushes. Stung by criticism of his second major painting, exhibited in 1850, Rossetti turned to watercolours.

In 1850, Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal, an important model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Over the next decade, she became his muse, his pupil, and his passion. They were married in 1860. Rossetti increasingly preferred symbolic and mythological images to realistic ones. He created a method of painting in watercolours, using thick pigments mixed with gum to give rich effects similar to medieval illuminations. He also developed a novel drawing technique in pen-and-ink.

Around 1860, Rossetti returned to oil painting, abandoning the dense medieval compositions of the 1850s in favour of powerful close-up images of women in flat pictorial spaces characterised by dense colour. These paintings became a major influence on the development of the European Symbolist movement. In them, Rossetti's depiction of women became almost obsessively stylised. He portrayed his new lover Fanny Cornforth as the epitome of physical eroticism, whilst Jane Burden, the wife of his business partner William Morris, was glamorised as an ethereal goddess. These new works were based not on medievalism, but on the Italian High Renaissance artists of Venice, Titian and Veronese.

In 1861, Rossetti became a founding partner in the decorative arts firm, he contributed designs for stained glass and other decorative objects. After the death of his wife, Rossetti leased Tudor House, in Chelsea where he lived for 20 years surrounded by extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals. Toward the end of his life, he sank into a morbid state, darkened by his drug addiction to chloral hydrate and increasing mental instability. He spent his last years as a recluse.

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