Dante Gabriel Rossetti, christened Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, was born in London, May 12, 1828. His father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian political exile with pretensions as a poet, who had published an eccentric commentary on Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320, 3 volumes; The Divine Comedy, 1802) and supported himself teaching his native language. Rossetti’s mother, Frances Polidori, although of Anglo-Italian background, was staunchly English in her severe moral standards and religious beliefs. The opposing views of life represented by his father and mother determined a conflict from which Rossetti was never able to free himself. Like his amiable, self-indulgent father in many ways, he was never able to exorcise the accusing voice of his mother’s puritanism. He led the bohemian life of an artist, but felt guilty for doing so.
In 1845, Rossetti entered the Academy Schools of the Royal Academy of Art. There he associated himself with a group of young artists—notably, John Everett Millais and Holman Hunt—who were dissatisfied with the style and subject matter of Establishment painting, but eager to make names for themselves with the Establishment. Because the effects of light and naturalistic detail they sought were also to be found in late medieval art (prior to the painter Raphael), they called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and began initialing their more daring paintings “P.R.B.” In 1849-1850, the Brotherhood published a journal, The Germ, which included several poems by Rossetti, including “The Blessed Damozel” and the prose piece “Hand and Soul.” Also in 1850, Rossetti publicly exhibited a painting for the first time, Ecce Ancilla Domini! Reviews of the painting—as well as of works exhibited simultaneously by Hunt and Millais—were hostile. Stunned, Rossetti determined never to exhibit his work again (a determination...
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