Portraits of DGR, part 1
|Publication||Mag. of Art|
|Topic||Portraits of DGR, part 1|
|Notes||Brotherly admiration and tribute.|
89 January Magazine of Art
Three-part series about the portraits made of Dante Rossetti.
Rossetti, William M. "The Portraits of Dante Gabriel Rossetti." Magazine of Art (January 1889): 21. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.
This essay is the first of three parts. Rossetti considers several portraits of his then-deceased brother "Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti," in William Rossetti's words. Rossetti's criticism is mostly quantitative, considering matters of historical and factual background, but there is a subtle yet distinct subtext of brotherly admiration, respect and tribute in much of the qualitative discussion.
His stated purpose is "to give some account of the portraits in question, taking them as near as may be in order." As a result, Rossetti produces a chronology not only of the historical context of the portraits, but also of his brother's and his own earliest years and subsequent events up to and even after Dante Gabriel Rossetti's death. His firsthand familiarity with his brother allows him to explain the portraits in their intent and execution, as well as in the accuracy of their portrayal. That in turn allows Rossetti to speak of Dante Gabriel's actually personality and character as it existed during his lifetime, including how he thought and acted, what endeavors he felt were important, and how he interacted with others, plus his important focus on art-and art on him as well.
William Rossetti's narrative of the elder Rossetti's brother's life events includes anecdotal glimpses into the daily lives of key Pre-Raphaelite figures. For example, Rossetti relates the story of Dante Rossetti's one-time roommate Holman Hunt acting out of his sensitivity to noise while attempting to paint. Now and then, Rossetti relates, an Irish servant of the household would "at odd moments" sit down at a piano in the back room and play. Hunt, easily startled, would then "dart into the back room" and threaten to "rap on the walls with his mahlstick" until the disturbance subsided.
Also in Rossetti's chronology of portraits there is a listing of many of the addresses in London and at the coast where Dante Rossetti spent most of his productive years, as well as a few locations and anecdotes from their shared childhood.
Noteworthy, too, is the opportunity presented by Rossetti's frequent posing as certain characters for other painters. For example, Dante Rossetti having posed as the "Fool" in Madox-Brown's "Lear and Cordelia" allows William Rossetti to underscore the strength of the elder Rossetti brother's personal ethos: the purpose of the taciturn Fool in the painting is to provide an ironic element of uncharacteristic gravity, something William says Dante's Rossetti's noble visage and real-life reputation readily imparted to the composition. By contrast, Rossetti posing as the Chaucer figure in "Chaucer Reading the Legend of Custace at the Court of Edward III" required that Madox-Brown "not paint him with portrait-like exactness as that would have allowed a few intimates to aver 'that is Rossetti,' and would not have enabled anyone to say 'That is Chaucer."
Since Dante Rossetti was a central and founding figure in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it is only natural that other key figures of the movement populate William Rossetti's chronology of Dante's portraits and virtually, many key events of his life. Beyond that, though, there is a consistent reinforcement of the artistic values of the movement that extends beyond the consideration of the portraits described and their location.
The first installment of this three part series concludes with a discussion of the portrait commissioned and produced of Dante Rossetti only hours after his death. There follows a discussion of his peaceful, at ease appearance as a backdrop for reflections on his robust, often troubled life. See also part two and part three.
Many of those mentioned (see below) were members of Rossetti's circle of Cheyne Walk associates.
Standards of Judgment:
"to give some account of the portraits in question, taking them as near as may be in order;" "Neither in his visage nor in his bearing-nor, I may at once say, in his character-was there the least jot of sentimentalism, a quality which has been freely imputed to him by such persons only as knew him not at all;" ". . . he looked like a remarkable and interesting man, of whom one would willingly know more;" "Rossetti here looks gaunt and uncouth, a hobbledehoy with no girth of chest or shoulder, with blubber lips and almost a quadroon type of face."
Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner, 1906. Print.