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Monday, July 16, 2012

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Self-Portrait, 1847
pencil and white chalk on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London
no copyright infringement intended

He was eighteen, and a student at the Royal Academy, when he drew this self-portrait. It captures the rebellious and highly romantic self-image which he projected at this time.

I spoke a little bit here in the blog about the Pre-Raphaelites. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was their standard bearer, and my first encounter with his name was also my first meeting with the name of that movement. I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I came across his name (and their name). It was, if I remember well, a mention in a novel by Somerset Maugham, but I could be wrong. Everything was astonishing. The name of Pre-Raphaelite, how was that, to be an artist painting before Raphael while in the nineteenth century? Was it a time machine, or what? My two granddaughters, along with my little grandson, would tell me that you don't have to be a genius to realize that it's a time machine. Well, no. I got it only after many, many years. No, it wasn't a time machine, and it had nothing to do with Einstein or H. G. Wells. More with the antipathy for the Academia and especially for Sir Joshua Reynolds, if you know what I mean.

But the most astonishing was his name, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante still was okay for me, but Rossetti! This name belonged (with a slightly spelling difference, Rosetti), to a famous aristocratic family with some important personages in the history of my own country, Romania (the best known of them was C. A. Rosetti, one of the founding fathers of modern Romania). Were they related, these Rosettis with those Rossettis?

And I started a search. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the son of Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, an Italian poet and scholar who had emigrated to England. There is a book about the Rossettis, authored by Dinah Roe (The Rossettis in Wonderland: A Victorian Family History). I found only an excerpt, that looks fabulous. Here you go: the exiled Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti arrived in London in 1824 with a few letters of introduction, little money and less English; but within one generation, he would bequeath his new city with a remarkable cultural legacy through the accomplishments of his children; there was the poet and Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel, the poet and religious thinker Christina, the nun and Dante Alighieri scholar Maria, and William, who combined a life of English letters with a successful career in finance; the lives and achievements of the Rossettis are placed within the wider context of the artistic, literary and spiritual communities that inspired them and that they shaped in their turn; they worked with each other and in collaboration with the most famous figures of their day - the Barrett-Brownings, Tennyson, Swinburne and Ruskin - as well as within significant groups like the Pre-Raphaelites, Anglo-Catholics, Freemasons and suffragists.

I looked for their genealogy. It came out that by the beginning of the seventeenth century a Nicola Della Guardia , from Vasto, in the Abruzzi, married a Maria Rossi. Their son got the nickname of Rossetti, either for the maid name of his mother, or rather because he was particularly red-haired. And Rossetti they remained throughout the centuries.

Now for the Rosettis, their family came to the Romanian country from Constantinople, where a Lascaros Rossetos (or Rosseto) was living at the beginning of the seventeenth century: a document from 1629 is co-signed by him, together with Patriarch Kiril. This Lascaros was married to a Bella Cantacuzino.

Thus the Rosettis (or Rossetis, as you can see small spelling differences are not that important) were of Phanariot origin, but it seems that their ancestors actually had come to Constantinople from Italy (wiki). Could it be the same family? I would like to know.

(A Life in Books)

(Old Masters)



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