Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Desperate Romantic

Magnet # 240: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Il Ramoscello

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Once again, we're going from one end of the spectrum to the other, this time in the world of art. Today marks the anniversary of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's birth in 1828. Like Dali, he was a talented artist and an intriguing character. And Rossetti would also be strongly associated with a group of artists, although they had little in common with the Surrealists. He was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who strove to achieve the simple, romantic aesthetics of artists from times past.

Rossetti was born into a very intelligent and creative family. They even had ties to another poet who refused to conform to society - his uncle had been Lord Byron's physician. His father was an Italian scholar so obsessed with the works of Dante that he named his second-born son after him. He rarely spoke English at their London home, so Rosetti grew up speaking Italian as well as English. His younger sister Christina would go on to become a famous poet and Rosetti himself became both a poet and a painter. He studied briefly at the Antique School of the Royal Academy before leaving to study with an established painter, Ford Maddox Brown. With six other artists, he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which believed that the artist Raphael had corrupted art with his stiff, classical poses and wanted to follow the style of art that had been prominent before his time. They kept the existence of their group secret and mysteriously signed their paintings with the initials P.R.B. They often modeled for one another and shared models and one of their most important was a young woman named Lizzie Siddal, who became an artist herself. Rossetti came particularly close to her and they were happy for a time, eventually marring. But she was also very frail and, as her health worsened, she slowly became addicted to laudanum, which most likely accounted for her having a stillborn birth. Her condition worsened and she eventually passed away, devastating her husband, who placed all of his poems into her coffin in a particularly romantic gesture. The Rossetti paintings which Lizzie posed for are held to be a more ethereal, idealized view of the pure, chaste wife. Rossetti's second major muse was Fanny Cornforth, a much coarser, even vulgar, woman who worked as both a maidservant and housekeeper and perhaps even a prostitute. The images for which she modeled are much earthier and erotic than those of Siddal's and one is featured on this magnet. But his final muse was said to combine both the qualities of Siddal and Conforth into one figure who embodied both the pure and sensual on Rossetti's canvases. Her name was Jane Morris and she was married to William Morris, another artist who was Rossetti's friend. Because of this, he could not have an open relationship with Burden as he did with his other two muses, but it's believed that the two may have been clandestine lovers and she appeared in many of his paintings. Later in life, Rossetti came to regret his impulsive act of burying all of his poems with his wife and had them dug up under the cover of night. When he published them, they established him as an important poet, but they also offended many with their erotic nature, although this did not stop Rossetti from publishing a second volume of poems. But his health continued to fade and, as his wife had become addicted to laudanum, he became addicted to choral and slowly dwindled away, dying on Easter Sunday. Per his wishes, he was not interred beside Lizzie in London, but laid to rest far away from her in Birchington-On-Sea.

One of the facts about Rossetti which has struck me the most is that, although he rarely exhibited his work for the public, he was still a majorly influential artist in his time. Because of negative reviews he received from critics early in his career, he simply refused to show his work in galleries or shows almost completely for the rest of his life. This decision might have doomed many an artist, but not Rossetti. Thanks to his friendship with other artists, he was able to show his work to a select group of followers and still gain patrons and influence younger painters. Not many artists can ignore the general public and art community and still dominate an entire art movement, but Rossetti managed to influence artists such as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon, and Frederick Sandys. Although, like most painters of his time, his work fell out of favor for some time, they are now experiencing a renewed interest and many of his admirers now visit his grave, adorning it with flowers. In his own way, Rossetti has managed to capture the attention of art lovers both in his day and many generations after.

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