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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti’s father was an Italian political refugee and professor of Italian. His sister Christina became a poet, and Rossetti himself wrote poetry alongside his painting.

He joined the Royal Academy Schools as an associate in 1844, and in 1848 was briefly a pupil of the Pre-Raphaelite associate, Ford Madox Brown. In August 1848 he and Holman Hunt moved to a studio in London and together with Millais founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Shortly afterwards he finished his translation of Dante’s ‘Vita Nuova’ and in March 1849 exhibited his first major oil painting, ‘The Girlhood of Mary Virgin’ (1848–9).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'The Girlhood of Mary Virgin' (detail), 1848–9 © Tate, London (N04872)

In September and October of that year he visited Paris and Flanders with Holman Hunt, and was greatly impressed by the medieval and Renaissance art they saw there. He probably met his future wife and frequent model, Elizabeth Siddal, a painter in her own right, late in 1849; they married in 1860. In April 1850 he exhibited ‘Ecce Ancilla Domini!’(1849–50) but the picture was poorly received and Rossetti stopped showing his work publicly.

In the 1850s Rossetti became friendly with the critic John Ruskin, an advocate of the Pre-Raphaelites’ work and with Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris. In this period he became close to the latter’s wife, Jane Burden, and also the model Fanny Cornforth. In 1872 his health broke down and he died in 1882.