Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an Englishman of many talents. He was an active poet, translator, illustrator and painter. Along with two friends, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of painters dedicated to bringing the Renaissance ideals of painting back into the then modern art world. The paintings of Rossetti have influences many of the future generations including Symbolist painters, the Aesthetic Movement and notable individual artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
It was paintings like Beata Beatrix that directly influenced so many artists of such differing genres of painting. The woman shown in the foreground of the painting is Beatrix of Dante’s Inferno fame. Dante, Beatrix and many scenes of from Dante’s Inferno, as well as other works such as Shakespeare’s plays, found their way into a Rossetti’s work. The model for Beatrix was Rossetti’s wife who had died very young from an overdose of laudanum. She was to be the model of Beatrix in many of Rossetti’s works. The painting itself has a very otherworldly quality. The light shining on Beatrix’s hair makes it glow, almost as if there is a halo around her head. The bright red bird presenting her with a flower does indeed have a tiny halo over its feathered head. The figures in the background are wispy and undefined, leaving the viewer to wonder if they are really there at all.
Another painting by Rossetti is Proserpine. The figure in the painting is a woman, an ancient Roman goddess who is perhaps better known by the name of her ancient Greek equivalent – Persephone. Proserpine was captured by Hades, god of the Underworld, and became the Queen of the Underworld. She longed to see her mother once again, however, and her mother, an earth goddess, laid waste and winter upon the land until her safe return. Proserpine had eaten the fruit of the underworld, and could only return for a short while where the earth goddess would return the earth to a beautiful and fruitful state – the seasons of spring and summer. This painting shows the dark haired Proserpine holding the fruit of the underworld with a sliver taken out. Behind her the leaves of a tree curve and twist as a reminder of Proserpine bringing live back into the world.Rossetti was one of the best of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. His work inspired many artists both in his own time and in the following generations. Symbolist painters as well as the painters of the Aesthetic Movement can trace their origins back to Rossetti as the inspiration for their cause. Few artists inspire so many of so many generations to create and design their own forms of art. Rossetti was a great master of the art world, a giant in his own day and beyond.