Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On this date in 1828, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in England, the son of an exiled Italian patriot. Educated at King’s College London and a drawing academy, Dante was both a well-known poet and painter, and became part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (made up largely of freethinking artists). Rossetti’s sister was the poet Christina Rossetti. His early paintings, which were in oil and often with religious themes, were immediate hits, although some critics felt his poetry was his artistic forte.

Rossetti turned to watercolors and themes inspired by his namesake Dante Alighieri (whom Rossetti translated into English) and medieval themes in keeping with the Pre-Raphaelites. A favorite model was future wife Elizabeth Siddal, whose auburn hair and pure looks he immortalized. His sister Christina also posed for him. (Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s 1967 television film “Dante’s Inferno.” Kelsey Grammer appeared in an episode of “Cheers” as Rossetti for his Halloween costume. His wife dressed as Christina.)

He married Siddall in 1860. So ill and frail from either tuberculosis or an intestinal disorder that she had to be carried to the wedding, two years later she was dead at age 32 of an overdose of laudanum she had become addicted to.

Wiliam Michael Rossetti, his brother, wrote in 1895: “He was never confirmed, professed no religious faith, and practised no regular religious observances; but he had … sufficient sympathy with the abstract ideas and the venerable forms of Christianity to go occasionally to an Anglican church — very occasionally, and only as the inclination ruled him.”

Rossetti died at age 53 of Bright’s disease (of the kidneys) after living for several years as a recluse due to ill health, increasing mental instability and addiction to chloral hydrate. (D. 1882)

PHOTO: Portrait of Rossetti at age 22 by William Holman Hunt.

Freedom From Religion Foundation