1828. Born 12 May, Charlotte St., London; Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, second child and first son of Gabriele Rossetti, “revolutionary poet of Italian nationalism” and student of the Divina Commedia, who had fled to England, 1824, becoming Professor of Italian at Kings College, London. To the family this first son would always be Gabriel, for respect of the father; the son himself would later change his names to Dante Gabriel, for respect of the poet, Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321.

1837. Educated in junior department, Kings College School, to 1842; at home, fond of Knight’s Series of popular science works, and Retsch’s Outlines of illustrated plays of Shakespeare.

1842. Began art instruction at Sass’s, an Academy of the Fine Arts, of Mr. Cary, to 1846. Influences included French draughtsman Gavarni, and Ford Madox Brown, Parisina.

1844. Begins translating ‘Lenore’ and the Nibelungenlied of German writers.

1845. Begins translating Early Italian Poets, especially Dante; also reads Shelley, Keats, Elizabeth and Robert Browning and William Blake.

1846. Accepted as entrant by Royal Academy, London.

1847. Writes admiring letters: to lesser poet Leigh Hunt; and to William Bell Scott, artist and poet, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Government School of Design there. First meeting with William Holman Hunt, at R. A. while both were “drawing Ghiberti” [Italian 15th century], Hueffer:18. Rossetti also produced an early self-portrait. May: wrote first draft of “The Blessed Damozel” [1850, 1871-79].

1848. March: student, Antique School, R. A. Pens early ink-drawing, Dante Drawing an Angel on the Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice [1850]; the first illustration for his now completed translation [1845] of Dante’s Vita Nuova. Writes to Madox Brown [1842 passim] to request a student-place in his studio; is accepted; moves to work there. Views Holman Hunt’s The Eve of St. Agnes; by August has moved again, to Hunt’s studio; works on a “Gretchen” composition. August-September: at family house of John Everett Millais in Gower St., London — founding of enigmatic Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, P. R. B., by Hunt, Rossetti and Millais - sometimes called the “Lasinio incident”, for their rapt attention to a portfolio of Carlos Lasinio’s engravings of the Campo Santo, Pisa. Attention to Early Italian painters should not be exaggerated however: “…the essential point of the Pre-Raphaelite movement was the study not of the Early Italian painters, but of Nature…the fact that Rossetti was Italian [has] much obscured the point of view…the Pre-Raphaelites proclaimed the early Italian frescoists great painters because they observed natural objects directly.” Hueffer: 18-19. The ‘required’ symbolic ‘Seven’ members of the P. R. B. were completed by inviting James Collinson (1825-1881), Thomas Woolner (1825-1892), Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907) and William Michael Rossetti (1829-1910), who acted as secretary. The Nazarenes at Rome from 1810, the tenets of John Ruskin, and even the secretive Italian Carbonari have all been seen as influencing this youthful rebellion from the established Academy.

1849. Completed his first significant painting, with cryptic ‘PRB’ monogram: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, [Tate Gallery London]; advised by Hunt; young Christina Rossetti as sitter for the Virgin, Mrs. Rossetti for the mother. Traditional symbols abound: the lily, for innocence; seven-thorn briar for sorrow; seven-leaf palm for reward; the aureoled dove for the Holy Ghost; seven cypress trees as background, matching the seven stars in the hair of his ‘Blessed Damozel’ [1847], Rose: 7. Elizabeth Siddal, 1829-62, working at a milliner and dressmaker’s shop, Cranborne Alley, near Leicester Sq., is discovered by Walter Deverell (1827-54), artist-friend of PRB; becomes his studio model [1850].

1850. Rossetti living in bachelor-rooms, Red Lion Sq., Bloomsbury, Central London; first meeting with Miss Siddal, as she sits for ‘Viola’ [Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night] in Deverell’s studio [1851]. Tours France and Belgium with Hunt; admires Flemish School, van Eyck, Memling. Attempts landscape painting in Kent with Hunt but desists [1872]. Though largely irreligious, reads New Testament for themes, inspiration, ideas. Completes Dante Drawing an Angel [1848]. Much “ascetic mysticism” in Rossetti’s early works [1849 passim]. Produces second major painting on New Testament Annunciation theme, Ecce Ancilla Domini [Tate Gallery, London]; again, Christina Rossetti models the Virgin, “pure white-draped”, Wood: 16, and pencil study. Poor reception in London persuades the artist to not exhibit in public again. Brief but influential appearance of four issues of The Germ, literary-artistic magazine; includes first finished version of Rossetti’s poem The Blessed Damozel [1847, 1871].

1851. Year of the Great Exhibition, visited by “all England”. Secrecy of the PRB by now exposed, with scathing columns in The Times and elsewhere. Rossetti does not exhibit at the R. A.; PRB begins to break-up. Elizabeth Siddal by now a favourite model, used by Rossetti who begins to fall in love - with her shape, gestures, hair - dominating his conception of womanly ideal type [Medieval, Romantic, ‘stunners’]. Completes Saluto de Beatrice (Beatrice at the Wedding-Feast Denying her Salutation to Dante, painted over earlier pen & ink). Study for Delia in The Return of Tibullus to Delia, winter 1851-52; Borgia, with children dancing around Lucrezia.

1852. Engaged to Lizzie Siddal, Rossetti now sets up home with her, at 14 Chatham Place, near the old Blackfriars Bridge, London. Portrait of Ford Madox Brown [1848].

1853. Chronology of works, c.1850-53, particularly difficult, with mostly historical period pieces, Hueffer: 24. Hist, Said Kate the Queen; Benedick and Beatrice, sketch. Elizabeth Siddal, plaiting her hair, an early drawing; Rosso vestita, small water-colour sketch, possibly first of Lizzie; owned by Madox Brown to his death. The Laboratory, water-colour, from poem of Browning. Giotto painting the portrait of Dante, companion to Dante Drawing an Angel [1850]. Hesterna Rosa, a moral tale of revellers, with verses attached. Caught between poet and artist [no sales of pictures]; entertains idea of renouncing Art; briefly seeks post as telegraph-operator with Great Northern Railway. Finally encounters Mr. McCracken of Belfast, art patron, guided to him by Madox Brown and Hunt who purchases the “great white eye-sore”, Rossetti’s Ecce Domini; artist turns to small water-colours, Arthurian and Mediaeval designs. Portrait of Himself, with small moustache and beard, dated “Sept 20 1853”.

1854. McCracken purchases Dante Drawing an Angel; introduces it and Rossetti to John Ruskin, who then “proclaimed Rossetti to the world”, Hueffer: 33, and bought his pictures. Work on small ‘study’ for Found, 1853-55 [23.5cm x 22cm, Birmingham City Art Gallery], with dubious model Fanny Cornforth [1859]; never completed; theme of prostitution/fallen woman saved. Arthur’s Tomb, with crouching knight Lancelot, seen as perhaps typical of “his small, intense watercolours of the 1850s”, Wood: 96. January 1854, Holman Hunt had left England for the first of four trips to the Holy Land; PRB Brotherhood ceased to function; in Hunt’s absence, Rossetti apparently seduced his friend’s fiancée, Annie Miller (portrait).

1855. First design for triptych commissioned by Ruskin: Paolo and Francesca da Rimini [watercolour, Tate Gallery, London], from Dante’s Inferno; later represented, with many others, in F. Hollyer’s London photo-gallery of art-works. New acquaintance, Irish poet William Allingham, leads to Maids of Elfin Mere as illustration to the eponymous poem in Allingham’s Day and Night Songs; [wood engravings by Dalziel Brothers]. July: visits Oxford University, to accompany Elizabeth Siddal; meets Gothic Revival architect B. Woodward [1857]. Pre-Raphaelite pictures now being sought also by collector Thomas Combe (1797-1872) [Hunt’s portrait], director of Clarendon Press, whose collection will be instrumental in guiding Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris as Oxford under-graduates [1856]. Produces The Annunciation, modelled with Lizzie Siddal, and with symbolisms of dove, lilies, and the maiden’s handful of water [1849]. Completes pen & ink ‘Compositional Study for “Found” ’, suitably depicted on the artist’s local Blackfriars Bridge. Rossetti’s “monomania” for Lizzie Siddal, his “Guggums” at this time, led to incessant sketching and drawings of the striking young woman; one intimate visitor to their home was shown a drawer-full, many “matchless in beauty”, Wood: 28, citing Ford Madox Brown.

1856. First meeting with Oxford students Burne-Jones and William Morris [1857, passim]; often seen as start of Aesthetic Movement, though still termed Pre-Raphaelite [Phase II]. Burne-Jones & Morris recruit him to their Oxford and Cambridge Magazine; had seen his work/poems in The Germ [1850]; and Burne-Jones visited London in January, to witness Rossetti give an art-class at F. D. Maurice’s Working Men’s College, Great Ormond St. Winter 1856-57 saw series of illustrations for the Moxon Tennyson, one of the most important illustrated books of the period whose intricate drawings were formative for the second-generation of Pre-Raphaelite painters, Hueffer: 39-40.

1857. Summer: Oxford Union Debating Society Murals, upper tiers of Benjamin Woodward Library; theme of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, probably also from Tennyson’s revision of 1842, chosen by Rossetti, who himself undertook Sir Lancelot’s Vision of the Sanc Grael. Other artists, in the characteristic group of seven [sic], were Morris, Burne-Jones, Arthur Hughes, Val Prinsep, J. R. Spencer-Stanhope and J. H. Pollen. Poor preparation led to rapid deterioration; by 1902 the works were already termed “the famous vanished frescoes”, Hueffer: 42. Rossetti’s medievalism strongly influenced Arthur Hughes: The Wedding of St. George and Princess Sabra, watercolour (Tate Britain). Early watercolour of Dante’s Dream [1871, 1881]; Fra Pace etc. [Woodcuts by Dalziel Brothers, often used to illustrate works of this period, may have “strengths and weaknesses that cannot have been in Rossetti’s original designs”, Hueffer: 39]. Design for a Ballad and St. Katherine show Rossetti moving away from Nature, and towards Literary art. At Oxford meets poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, and the great beauty, Jane Burden; October, attends theatre in Oxford with William Morris; they meet Jane and her sister [1869]. Tennyson Reading “Maude” at the Brownings shows similar vigour and directness to Rossetti’s ‘Lancelot’ [above] and Breuse sans Pitie; friends, however, continue to encourage the artist towards ‘Decorative’. Rossetti’s early work as a designer appears in pictures [especially their pencil-studies, of Sir Galahad and Sir Percival, bowed and stooped] used in confined spaces with lamps, as adjuncts to the Union Murals [above]. The Blue Closet, strongly feminine, may well have been modelled upon the four sisters-in-law whom Burne-Jones gained upon marrying Georgina MacDonald; the sisters probably appear in Millais’s Apple Blossoms (Spring) (1856-58), and certainly in Burne-Jones, Green Summer (1864). Summer Pre-Raphaelite Salon, Russell Place, London, saw debut exhibition of Elizabeth Siddal, coached by Rossetti, admired and advised by Ruskin. Lizzie’s style was “earnest, naïve…romantic-medieval watercolours”, Marsh: 114.

1858. The Wedding of St. George, A Christmas Carol [not from Dickens]; etc., and Lancelot Defending Guinevere’s Chamber hint that “Ruskin forced [Rossetti] to display his abilities as a painter of Florentine chaste-mysticisms”, Hueffer: 50. A pen & ink study, Ophelia Returning the Gifts to Hamlet [1866 as watercolour]; Magdalen at the door of Simon Pharisee, based on 1856 design.

1859. Paints Dantis Amor, oil, [Tate Gallery], central panel of Series of three to illustrate Dante’s works; with designs for stained-glass, at the Red Lion Sq. house [1850], now occupied by William Morris and Burne-Jones [1861]. Paints his first large “stunner” of carnal beauty: Bocca Baciata, [The Mouth that Was Kissed], oil on panel, modelled on Fanny Cornforth [1854], commission from George Boyce, artist [Boston Museum of Fine Arts]. A Rossetti poem accompanied this, as many others of his paintings. Reads Balzac. Year of architectural competition for Manchester Assize Courts: Gothic Revival architects such as Richard Norman Shaw,1831-1912, soon adopt attractive elements from Rossetti - new Japanisme, abstract whorls, geometric designs etc., from oriental sun and petal-decorated ceramics, [1860], Saint: 49. Sir Galahad at the Ruined Chapel, [c.29cm x 34cm, Birmingham City Art Gallery], with “mortal armour” and “solemn chants of girls”.

1860. Marries Lizzie Siddal, after ten-year courtship/engagement; marred by her ill-health and laudanum (morphine syrup) habit, and his penchant for other “stunners”, with a competing real love for Janey Morris [1857, 1869]. Paints watercolour of St. George and the Princess Sabra, his last with Lizzie as sitter. Dr. Johnson at the Mitre, pen & ink, inn scene. How They Met Themselves, pen & ink; two pairs of lovers, doppelgangers, meet on woodland path. By now Rossetti knew or influenced painters Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), Albert Moore (1841-1893), and the redoubtable James McNeill Whistler. Visit to London from Bingley, Yorkshire, of furnishings manufacturer John Adam Heaton, and sister-in-law Ellen, already a collector of Rossetti drawings; meet Rossetti, commissions follow [1861]. A new version of Study of Fanny Cornforth for Prostitute’s Head in “Found” ’ [1855, [Birmingham City Art Gallery], Rose, Fig. 27.

1861. Produces Regina Cordium, panel for design-book of Red Lion Square House, then the celebrated Arts & Crafts manufacturers Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., later Morris & Co. A Seddon cabinet panel, King Rene’s Honeymoon, and a pulpit-panel, Annunciation are all welcome commissions. Commissions duly arrive from the Bingley home of Adam Heaton: three small panels, including one of Mrs. Heaton as ‘Lady of Woodbank’. Morris & Co. also working in Bingley, and Ruskin lecturing in nearby affluent Bradford. However, within a short space of time, furious row between Rossetti and Heaton brings an end to the lucrative work, Saint: 259, citing Helen Rossetti, 1954. [The northern Heaton, Butler & Bayne Co. became a competitor of Morris & Co., though with inferior quality]. Lucrezia Borgia, a sumptuous “stunner”. Publication, financed by Ruskin, of Rossetti’s translation of The Early Italian Poets. Still-birth of Lizzie’s daughter leads to acutely increased melancholy. The Fair Rosamond, borderline dramatic-lyrical.

1862. Second Great Exhibition, London [1851], with benefits to Morris & Co. and designers. February: death of grieving Lizzie Rossetti from [accidental?] laudanum overdose; Rossetti in anguish buries his most updated booklet of poems [1870] entwined in wife’s golden hair. Moves into rooms; then, November, new residence at Tudor House, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, rented with Swinburne and George Meredith; the aged Thomas Carlyle lived nearby [until his death, 1881]. Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti’s sometime mistress, is discretely housed in nearby rooms of her own. Year saw two illustrations for sister Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. Finds new patrons in 1860s: Leathart [1847], Leyland, Graham, G. Rae. Broadens interest, verging on mania, for blue & white ‘Nanking’ china/pottery, and Japonisme [after Monet and Gauguin in France, and with Whistler and Tissot in England; a decade later, Rossetti’s ‘blue china’ would be an influence on Oscar Wilde]. Portrait of Mrs. Gabriele Rossetti, in pastel. Girl at a Lattice, in oil. Joan of Arc Kissing the Sword of Deliverance.

1863. Member of informal ‘Club’ at Red Lion Square [1861], with Morris et al. Paints the erotic Fazio’s Mistress [1873], with attendant poem. Several poems associated with Helen of Troy (Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany); “Troy Town” one of three. October: photographed seated, large hat in hand, by C. L. Dodgson [Lewis Carroll], [Gernsheim Collection, University of Texas]. Dodgson had called and seen Rossetti’s “very lovely pictures”, 30th September; and again, 24th June 1864, Diaries, 4: 243, 316. [1865] Dancing Girl, a head and shoulders, described as “Bacchic”.

1864. Completes, from 1858, triptych The Seed of David for Llandaff Cathedral, Wales. Completes Beata Beatrix, from 1863, [Tate Gallery], homage to his lost wife, Lizzie. Painting, poetry and the artist’s grieving were combined; Arthurian and Tennyson-themes were then abandoned, and “Thereafter there was to be one subject, and one subject alone in his art — women”, Wood: 96-97. A supreme Romantic - poetry and his pictorial art all done for Love. Lady Lilith, modelled on Fanny Cornforth (Delaware Art Museum). [1873] [1877].

1865. Meets Alexa Wilding (portrait), who quickly becomes a favourite sitter; less erotic and long-lasting friendship, apparently without friction with Janey Morris. [1872]. Began The Beloved/The Bride, using new model, Maria Ford; a new and covert symbolism, of “woman’s power over men”, as his friend F. G. Stephens put it. Tuesday, 18th April, visited again by Carroll [1863], who finds Rossetti at home with Swinburne; the latter’s atheism, unlike Rossetti’s more diffuse brand, proved altogether too much for the Christ Church deacon. Pictures included Aspecta Medusa; began Rosa Triplex

1866. Ophelia Returning the Gifts of Hamlet [1858], now in watercolour. Assume regular visits, from c. 1859 passim, to Philip Speakman Webb’s Red House —  William and Jane Morris’ home in Bexley Heath, Kent, their ‘Palace of Art’, furnished out of the Red Lion Square emporium. Jane had married Morris for security and comfort, though it was Rossetti whom she loved, and he her. The on-off affair became dominant about now.

1868. Venus Verticordia; cf. 1877; Aurea Catena [Lady with Golden Chain]; The Loving Cup; Joli Couer. The Blue Silk Dress, [Jane Morris].

1869. Rossetti and Morris jointly rent a ‘summer retreat’, Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire. When Morris travelled to Iceland, in 1871 and 1873, Rossetti and Janey pursued a complex series of liaisons and love-meetings there. A trial Pandora [1871, 1875]. Finished Lady With the Fan. Drawings: Marie Spartali, Fanny Cornforth. Cassandra

1870. Rossetti’s friend Charles Augustus Howell persuades him to retrieve his lost poems from the grave of Lizzie [1862]. After difficulties and exhumation, published as Poems by D. G. Rossetti, with first part of his sonnet sequence “House of Life” [1881]. Controversially erotic and sensual, Poems drew scathing criticism: ‘Thomas Maitland’, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, Contemporary Review. Rossetti responded in letter to Athenaeum, rejecting charge of “immorality”. ‘Maitland’ then emerged as John Buchanan, The Fleshly School of Poetry, and Other Phenomena of the Day, by Robert Buchanan, 1871, pamphlet. Marianna (Aberdeen Art Gallery). A Sea Spell, with poem.

1871. See [1869], Jane Morris. The Blessed Damozel reworked as commission [1881]. Buchanan, see [1870].

1872. Rossetti’s slow but irreversible breakdown, with increased use of alcohol/whiskey and chloral [chloral hydrate, narcotic and soporific], have been dated from the post-Buchanan period. Summer: Rossetti living at Kelmscott, poor health; he and Swinburne never meet again; Proserpine with poem; a Jane Morris spectacular. May Morris, coloured chalks; May and sister Jenny, daughters of William and Jane Morris, were said to be very fond of Rossetti. The Bower Meadow (Manchester City Art Gallery); Alexa Wilding and Marie Spartali-Stillman as models; background from Rossetti’s early isolated landscape, [1850]. Veronica Veronese (Delaware Art Museum) Commissioned by F. R. Leyland.

1873. Friendship with Walter Theodor Watts [1882], friend and late-life adviser to poet Swinburne. La Ghirlandata. Lady Lilith, Fanny Cornforth as sitter. Continues to live at Kelmscott.

1874. Pastel portraits around this time included sitters Marie Spartali-Stillman, Christina Rossetti and Mrs. G. Rossetti. Roman Widow. Completes from c.1865, Rosa Triplex. Difficulties with William Morris, returned from Iceland trip, led to Morris reorganising his private and business life, and Rossetti finally leaving Kelmscott [1869].

1875. Increased use of chloral [bitter taste] and whiskey. Produces The Lady of Pity, oil on canvas, from crayon of 1869, based on Jane Morris. Hero’s Lamp. Another Pandora, [1869].

1877. Completes a version of The Blessed Damozel, oil on canvas, Harvard University, The Fogg Art Museum. Astarte Syriaca, 183cm x 107cm, Manchester City Art Gallery; based on Jane Morris, “amulet, talisman and oracle”; Venus, in an ancient guise, the ultimate love-goddess [1864]. Janey finally distances herself from Rossetti, after watching his drug-habit through many sittings. Grosvenor Gallery opens in London, alternative to R. A.; Burne-Jones major force; first all Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition.

1878. Fiammetta, with poem.

1879. Completes commission The Blessed Damozel, sitter Alexa Wilding. Beatrice, a Portrait of Jane Morris, signed and dated.

1880. The Day-Dream (Victorian & Albert Museum) Jane Morris, from earlier study of her sitting in tree at Kelmscott. Rossetti’s style had been for some time largely Aesthetic. Mnemosyne. Completes 1868 Pia de Tolomei (University of Kansas, Spencer Museum of Art). The Salutation of Beatrice, to 1881 (Toledo Museum of Art).

1881. Publishes Volume 2 of Poems, Ballads and Sonnets, ed. W. M. Rossetti, London: Ellis & Elvey, with remaining sonnet sequence of House of Life; Collected Works. Dante’s Dream, (1869, 1871), large oil replica. The Blessed Damozel (1875-81, Lady Lever Art Gallery). Pastel portrait of Watts [now Watts-Dunton], loyal late-friend to both Rossetti and Swinburne.

1882. Proserpine (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery). D.G. Rossetti reading “Ballads and Sonnets” to Theodore Watts, Green Dining-Room at Cheyne Walk, 1882, painting by H. Treffry Dunn, in Henderson: 214. Dies at Birchington, near Margate, Kent.

Brief Bibliography

Hueffer, Ford Madox, 1902, Rossetti. A Critical Essay on His Art. London: Duckworth & Co., 1914.

Much attention is given above to Hueffer’s publication, as he wrote close to the time concerned, and his own family had members who actually had known D. G. Rossetti. Hueffer’s mother was Catherine Madox Brown, b.1850, younger daughter of Rossetti’s life-long friend Ford Madox Brown. Familiarity with both the Victorian art world generally, and the Rossetti family in particular, were infused into Hueffer, 1873-1939, by his own talented mother, who herself appears in citation 5. below, as a Pre-Raphaelite artist. Unfortunately, though providing much valuable information, it often provides views of the PRB fundamentally different from those of actual members of the group, particularly Hunt and Millais.

Barringer, Tim, Jason Rosenfeld, and Alison Smith. The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design. London: Tate Britain, 2012.

Rossetti, W. M., 1900, Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters. London: Hurst & Blackett.

Wood, C. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Cassell & Co., 1980.

Rose, Andrea. The Pre-Raphaelites. Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1977.

Marsh, Jan and Nunn, G. Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, Manchester City Art Galleries; London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.

Henderson, P. Swinburne, London: Routledge, Kegan Paul Ltd., 1974.

Pre-Raphaelites, The. Exhition catalogue. London: Tate Gallery: 1984.

Saint, A., Richard Norman Shaw, Yale U.P.: New Haven & London, 1976.

Surtees, Virginia. The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonné/ 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Last modified 27 June 2020