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Proserpine (1874)

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Item Code: TOPDante Gabriel Rossetti-11
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Artist Introduce:
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 - 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Rossetti 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. His early poetry was influenced by John Keats. His later poetry was characterised by the complex interlinking of thought and feeling, especially in his sonnet sequence, The House of Life. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work. He frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures, spanning from The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Astarte Syriaca (1877), while also creating art to illustrate poems such as "Goblin Market" by the celebrated poet Christina Rossetti, his sister.
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.
Early life
Self-portrait, 1847
The son of émigré Italian scholar Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti and his wife Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori, Rossetti was born in London, England and named Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti. His family and friends called him Gabriel, but in publications he put the name Dante first in honour of Dante Alighieri. He was the brother of poet Christina Rossetti, critic William Michael Rossetti, and author Maria Francesca Rossetti.His father was a Roman Catholic, at least prior to his marriage, and his mother was an Anglican; ostensibly Gabriel was baptized as and was a practicing Anglican. During his childhood, Rossetti was home educated and often read the Bible, along with the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron.
The youthful Rossetti is described as "self-possessed, articulate, passionate and charismatic" but also "ardent, poetic and feckless".Like all his siblings, he aspired to be a poet and attended King's College School, in its original location near the Strand in London. He also wished to be a painter, having shown a great interest in Medieval Italian art. He studied at Henry Sass' Drawing Academy from 1841 to 1845, when he enrolled in the Antique School of the Royal Academy, which he left in 1848. After leaving the Royal Academy, Rossetti studied under Ford Madox Brown, with whom he retained a close relationship throughout his life.
Following the exhibition of William Holman Hunt's painting The Eve of St. Agnes, Rossetti sought out Hunt's friendship. The painting illustrated a poem by the little-known John Keats. Rossetti's own poem, "The Blessed Damozel", was an imitation of Keats, and he believed Hunt might share his artistic and literary ideals. Together they developed the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which they founded along with John Everett Millais.
Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti at 22 years of Age by William Holman Hunt
The group's intention was to reform English art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo and the formal training regime introduced by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Their approach was to return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian and Flemish art.The eminent critic John Ruskin wrote:
Every Pre-Raphaelite landscape background is painted to the last touch, in the open air, from the thing itself. Every Pre-Raphaelite figure, however studied in expression, is a true portrait of some living person.
For the first issue of the brotherhood's magazine, The Germ, published early in 1850, Rossetti contributed a poem, "The Blessed Damozel", and a story about a fictional early Italian artist inspired by a vision of a woman who bids him combine the human and the divine in his art.Rossetti was always more interested in the medieval than in the modern side of the movement, working on translations of Dante and other medieval Italian poets, and adopting the stylistic characteristics of the early Italians.
Career
Beginnings
The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849). (Models: the artist's mother for St. Anne and his sister Christina for the Virgin).
Rossetti's first major paintings in oil display the realist qualities of the early Pre-Raphaelite movement. His Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) portray Mary as a teenage girl. William Bell Scott saw Girlhood in progress in Hunt's studio and remarked on young Rossetti's technique:
He was painting in oils with water-colour brushes, as thinly as in water-colour, on canvas which he had primed with white till the surface was a smooth as cardboard, and every tint remained transparent. I saw at once that he was not an orthodox boy, but acting purely from the aesthetic motive. The mixture of genius and dilettantism of both men shut me up for the moment, and whetted my curiosity.
— William Bell Scott
Stung by criticism of his second major painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini, exhibited in 1850, and the "increasingly hysterical critical reaction that greeted Pre-Raphaelitism" that year, Rossetti turned to watercolours, which could be sold privately. Although his work subsequently won support from John Ruskin, Rossetti only rarely exhibited thereafter.
Dante and Medievalism
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.
Original manuscript of "Autumn Song" by Rossetti, 1848, in the Ashley Library
Rossetti's incomplete picture Found, begun in 1853 and unfinished at his death, was his only major modern-life subject. It depicted a prostitute, lifted from the street by a country drover who recognises his old sweetheart. However, Rossetti increasingly preferred symbolic and mythological images to realistic ones,
For many years, Rossetti worked on English translations of Italian poetry including Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova (published as The Early Italian Poets in 1861). These and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur inspired his art of the 1850s. 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. His first published illustration was "The Maids of Elfen-Mere" (1855), for a poem by his friend William Allingham, and he contributed two illustrations to Edward Moxon's 1857 edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Poems and illustrations for works by his sister Christina Rossetti.
The Day Dream. The sitter is Jane Morris.
His visions of Arthurian romance and medieval design also inspired William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.[18] Neither Burne-Jones nor Morris knew Rossetti, but were much influenced by his works, and met him by recruiting him as a contributor to their Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which Morris founded in 1856 to promote his ideas about art and poetry.
In February 1857, Rossetti wrote to William Bell Scott:
Two young men, projectors of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, have recently come up to town from Oxford, and are now very intimate friends of mine. Their names are Morris and Jones. They have turned artists instead of taking up any other career to which the university generally leads, and both are men of real genius. Jones's designs are marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequalled by anything unless perhaps Albert Dürer's finest works.
That summer Morris and Rossetti visited Oxford and finding the Oxford Union debating-hall under construction, pursued a commission to paint the upper walls with scenes from Le Morte d'Arthur and to decorate the roof between the open timbers. Seven artists were recruited, among them Valentine Prinsep and Arthur Hughes,and the work was hastily begun. The frescoes, done too soon and too fast, began to fade at once and now are barely decipherable. Rossetti recruited two sisters, Bessie and Jane Burden, as models for the Oxford Union murals, and Jane became Morris's wife in 1859.

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