Dante Gabriel Rossetti

12 May 2011

The Pre-Raphaelite artist, poet and hopeless romantic, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born on this day, 12th of May 1828.

I’ve always been a tremendous fan of Rossetti’s work – I adore the wistful, melancholy expressions of his models; the rich and sumptuous fabrics of their impractical clothes and the silken tresses of their crimped hair. I also love the atmosphere of over ripe longing and louche romantic misery that pervades his paintings. Women in Rossetti’s works always look like they are waiting for a bus to a hideous dental appointment, don’t they?

On a vain level, it was Rossetti’s paintings that finally made me embrace having red hair after years of bullying. The comments and taunts continued for a long time but I was suddenly able to toss my head about a bit and think ‘Well, you’re clearly just jealous because no one will ever want to paint you as Lucrezia Borgia.’

There’s something refreshing though about the fact that the beauteous Pre Raphaelite muses: Jane Morris, Elizabeth Siddal, Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth have become almost as famous as the artists who painted them.

One face looks out from all his canvases,

One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:

We found her hidden just behind those screens,

That mirror gave back all her loveliness.

A queen in opal or in ruby dress,

A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,

A saint, an angel — every canvas means

The same one meaning, neither more nor less.

He feeds upon her face by day and night,

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:

Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.’ — Christina Rossetti.

I must admit though that for a very brief period a few years ago, I very much enjoyed winding up a couple of pretentious art illiterate goth sorts on Live Journal (they richly deserved it so don’t feel bad for them) by recounting the sorry tale of how the Pre Raphaelites in general and Rossetti in particular tend to be shunned by Art History departments and are regarded by many academics to be ‘Bad Art’ (we didn’t study the Impressionists or Klimt at university which leads me to conclude that anything that can generally be found on posters in a student’s room, won’t end up in their lectures).

I actually did a course on the Pre Raphaelites at my university with Dr Gail Nina Anderson (who was lovely) but, tellingly, it was held at 6pm on a Friday evening – the black hole of university lecture timings as every undergraduate’s thoughts are on the Union Bar and the weekend ahead. Nonetheless, those lectures were PACKED.

I’m going to expiate myself never fear as I have plans to one day write a very lurid novel indeed about Elizabeth Siddal…

Anyway, I thought that in honour of his birthday, I would share with you all some of my favourite Rossetti paintings. What do you think? Do you have a favourite? I’ve just bought a big poster of The Beloved from the Tate Gallery and am now trying to locate a nice matching one of Monna Vanna.

*looks around shiftily* Have I made it through this entire post without posting a picture of Aidan Turner as Rossetti in Desperate Romantics? I have been carrying my copy of the original book, which has him on the cover around in my bag for about a year now, completely unread and people (mainly my husband) are starting to talk…

Oops, my hand slipped…