The 1896 Quarterly Review essay on Rossetti points out that when the Brotherhood began, the “beginnings of it were in the 'Lakers,' the 'Cockney School,' — Wordsworth, Coleridge (the Lake poets), and Keats — and the Mediaevalists of Düsseldorf and Munich, the Romanticists of Germany and France. — George P. Landow


ennyson's 'Mariana,' 'Lady of Shalott,' and 'Palace of Art' were waiting ten years for the artists whose kindred genius illustrated them in 1856. But the spiritual father of the new Romanticists in England, though possibly neither he nor they knew it, was, we believe, Robert Browning.

Passing over his earlier works, from which, and especially from 'Sordello,' the impulse came, we may point to 'The Ring and the Book' as a perfect embodiment, in the forms of the past, of permanent human feeling, heightened by modern experience. Though the poet never sinks into archaeo logy, not a word or an idea is out of character with the time in which the action lies ; but the poem could not have been written 150 years ago, because the world has grown, not perhaps wiser, but older since then. And in the method of conception and execution followed in this work we have perhaps a clue. Rossetti's admiration of Browning began when he was a very young man, and never declined. It was Browning who added thought to romance in the study of the past ; his was the method which secured its grasp of the truth of a situation by perfect knowledge of its details. He worked from the external facts into the heart of the matter, and thus was able to take, as it were, his stand before his subject and strike his lines firmly with just so much detail as he needed.

However However minute Browning's detail may be, it is never mere detail — he is not like the fly which walks over the picture and' sees only an inch at a time. This is the danger of the artist who believes that detail is truth ; a danger into which neither Browning nor Rossetti ever fell. Rossetti's drawing of ' The Laboratory ' is not more in the spirit of the poet whom it illustrates, than the ' Lucrezia Borgia,' from which Browning might have been inspired to write one of his Renaissance studies. The senile viciousness of the Pope, the full-blown wickedness of his daughter, the half-corrupted innocence of the dancing boy and girl, are all in the manner of Browning, and produce a single and masterly impression. No drawing of Rossetti has finer qualities than this, regarded apart from its technical merits, and purely as a study of humanity.

The clue, if we have found it, is this. Rossetti, like Browning, in the midst of details, never worked without a single idea, and never failed to convey hi* idea. When he wrote -poetry, he had the full scale of human speech as his instrument. The work of the painter is more difficult, for he has to speak to the mind not through its accustomed language, but through forms ; and if he is too didactic (as indeed Rossetti sometimes is), he does not command attention, for art must never be tedious. The key-note of a picture must be struck clearly and at once. When (as in some of Holman Hunt's pictures) we have to work it up from the details, it becomes a homily. To produce an impression is what the artist has to do ; and as an artist is primarily a priest of the Beautiful, he must do it in the language of Beauty. A poet may (at his peril) sacrifice beauty to truth and write such poems as " Ned Bratts " and " Peter Bell," and introduce such figures as lachimo, Thenardier, and Vautrin, for the sake of striking an impression ; but a painter never. [195-96]

Related Material


“Dante Gabriel Rossetti.” Quarterly Review. 184 (July-October 1896): 518-214. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Virginia Library. Web. 28 November 2019.

Last modified 29 November 2019