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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Rossetti family

In 1824 Gabriele Rossetti (1783–1854) settled in London. He was a Neapolitan poet and radical, seeking asylum after a failed revolution. In 1826 he married Maria Polidori, the daughter of a teacher of Italian. They had three distinguished children.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82) and William Michael (1829–1919) were founder members of the *Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Dante Gabriel provided two of the most striking paintings of the early years of the movement – The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini (1849 and 1850, both Tate Gallery). William Michael's contribution was as the archivist of the brotherhood (his paid employment was with the Inland Revenue), and it is thanks to his publications that its activities are known in detail.

In those two paintings Dante Gabriel's model for the Virgin was his sister Christina, but he soon found another muse in Elizabeth Siddal, known to everyone in the group of friends as Guggums (she is Millais' *Ophelia). From 1850 she was Rossetti's regular model, seen in countless drawings, and in 1860 he married her; but in 1862 she died of an overdose of laudanum. In a macabre romantic gesture he placed in her coffin the only complete manuscript of his poems – he had written poetry from boyhood and his best-known work, The Blessed Damozel, dates from his early twenties. In 1869 some friends of Rossetti's arranged for the grave to be opened and retrieved the manuscript. The resulting volume (Poems 1870) provoked the famous phrase 'the fleshly school of poetry' in an attack by Robert Buchanan.

The younger second wave of Pre-Raphaelites, *Morris and *Burne-Jones, met Rossetti in 1856 and were much influenced by his romantic medievalism. Rossetti later had a brief involvement with Morris's design company and a long relationship with his wife, Jane. Hers is the face in most of the sultry and rather repetitive paintings from the mid-1860s onwards, and the photographs that Rossetti took of her in his garden reveal that the pout of her painted lips and the dark cloud of her hair is hardly exaggerated. From 1862 Rossetti lived at 16 Cheyne Walk, contributing greatly to *Chelsea's new bohemian image.

Christina Rossetti (1830–94) was as serious about Christianity as her appearance in her brother's early paintings might suggest; she broke off her engagement to the Pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson (1825–81) when he became a Roman Catholic in 1850, for she herself could go no further than Anglo-Catholicism. The majority of her poems are devotional but she also had a rich streak of fantasy – seen in her best-known work, Goblin Market (1862).

She often achieved a Pre-Raphaelite clarity of image, as for example in the opening lines of Mid-Winter, which in *Holst's setting has become a popular carol:
In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,

Long ago.


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