Writer and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti is born this day in London. Rossetti’s father was an Italian patriot exiled to England. The family’s household became a center of liberal politics and lively conversation and produced several talented children, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister, poet Christina Rossetti, and his brother, art critic and editor William Rossetti.
Dante Rossetti, put off by his father’s passionate politics, came to believe that art and literature should pursue beauty for beauty’s sake and not try to be moral, instructive, or politically useful. Rossetti was already writing poetry and translating Italian verse by the time he was 20. He studied art and became a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an art group embracing art for art’s sake. Rossetti contributed poems to the group’s magazine, The Germ, and published a translation called Early Italian Poems, which brought him modest recognition and success.
In 1860, Rossetti married a beautiful model named Elizabeth Siddal. Two years later, she died from an accidental overdose of laudanum. Rossetti, devastated, buried the only complete manuscript of his poetry with her. The manuscript was later unearthed and published during his lifetime. His Ballads and Sonnets (1881) included his sonnet sequence The House of Life. Rossetti died the following year.