Rossetti

Rossetti

Painter & Poet

Book - 2011
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti is the most intriguing and flamboyant figure in nineteenth-century British art. He inspired the first Pre-Raphaelite generation of 1849 and the second generation ten years later and both brought about significant changes in British art. His poetry, too, acted as a stimulus to many writers at the end of the century, who saw in his subtle manipulation of the sonnet and the ballad forms ways of giving expression to issues that were peculiar to the that century.

Dominant among those issues was that of sexual desire, for Rossetti, more than any other artist in this period, struggled with the contradictions of sexuality. When he died in 1882 people knew of him as the painter of alluring women with exotic names - Lilith, Monna Vanna, Fiammetta - and the writer of subtly erotic verse. He projected onto women his anxieties, his pleasures and his needs. He also mythologized them, so that Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth, Jane Morris and others became for him Beatrice, Guenevere, and Isolde. In doing so he shaped them, he changed the direction of their lives, and in some cases he both made and destroyed them.

This richly illustrated book, by tracing the development of Rossetti's painting and poetry in the context of the drama of his life, follows this powerful thread. Sometimes sensual, at others spiritual, Rossetti's mission was to transcend the Manichean division that separated body and soul and, through the visionary power of art, reconcile what he saw as elements fundamental to human experience.
Publisher: London : Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2011.
Edition: 1st Frances Lincoln ed.
ISBN: 9780711232259
0711232253
Branch Call Number: Oversize 759.2
Characteristics: 270 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 31 cm.

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dennismmiller
Mar 05, 2018

Rather than examine any part of his artistic output in isolation, Bullen's survey of the works of the Pre-Raphaelite master Dante Gabriel Rossetti considers both his poetry and his painting, with each informing the other. The study follows a biographical path, an approach particularly fruitful with an artist known for his creative association with other artists and personal involvement with his models. Stunning reproductions of virtually the entirety of Rossetti's body of work are distributed liberally throughout the book, and are almost always placed close to their discussion in the text.

Evidently, Bullen's primary interest in Rossetti is the sensuality of his work, mapping what he calls Rosetti's "anatomy of desire." Unfortunately, it generally seems as if this is Bullen's only interest, and he sometimes slides into the uncomfortably prurient, as when he speculates on the specific sex acts the artist may or may not have engaged in with his different lovers, while at other times the writing approaches that parodic level where any object longer than it is wide is labelled a phallic symbol. Late in the book, Bullen paraphrases a defense Rossetti made of his work, that it "contained many rooms, rooms which included both the spiritual and the sensual, and in order to arrive at a complete picture all those rooms must be explored." Although Bullen thoroughly explores some of those rooms, by neglecting others the picture remains sadly incomplete.

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