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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was born in London and at an early age declared his attention of becoming a poet. He attended the renowned King’s College School and became interested in Medieval Italian art, which he studied at the Henry Sass’s Drawning Academy and the Antique School of the Royal Academy from 1841 to 1848. In the same year he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood together with the painters John Evereett Millais and William Holman Hunt. They were soon joined by other members who shared the same ideas about art, which they promoted and tried to spread in the periodical The Germ (published in four numbers in 1850). These artists were attracted and fascinated by medieval culture, in which they saw the perfect expression of a spiritual and creative energy irreparably lost in later ages. In fact, they considered the artistic production since the Italian High Renaissance as heavily characterised by the corrupting influence of Classicism and in particular by the too formal elegance and restrained naturalism of Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio, 1483-1520). They rejected the artificial intellectual sophistication of Mannerism and advocated a return to a more spontaneous approach to art based on the attention to minute detail and the emphasis on pure colours which, in their view, were able to stir up intense feelings in the viewers. They stressed the individual artist’s freedom and responsibility in the creative process and believed that the work of art had to express the originalità and uniqueness of each painter’s inspiration.

The first exhibition of the Pre-Raphaelites took place in 1849 and their work soon became controversal, as it was judged ugly and even blasphemous by many contemporaries because of the unusual rediscovered them, the Pre-Raphaelites have been considered the forerunners of Symbolism, a French and Belgian artistic movement of the late 19th century which depicted “scences from nature, human activities and all other real world phenomenona” as “perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial ideals”.

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