I've actually been as close as six feet to Rosetti. Well, his body, as I've been to his grave at All Saints church in Birchington-on-Sea, near Margate. It was a weird experience. I was expecting a grave as ornate and wondrous as his art, bejewelled and bedazzling. Instead, I found a simple gravestone in the quite graveyard of a quite village. It seemed out of keeping that it was here, six feet under, where one of the greatest artists who ever lived now remained for eternity. I know he had only spent the last two months of his life in Birchington-on-Sea but I felt it would have been more befitting the great Pre-Raphaelite for his body at some point to have been transposed to somewhere of more splendour like one of the country's great cathedrals?
But then later I realised that my useless wishes were those of an ordinary idiot for the icon that was Rossetti in my mind, and not for the man himself who suffered so much sadness in his las years that maybe, just maybe, he wanted to crawl back into the earth from where he came.
The facts on Dante Gabriel Rossetti are thus: his father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an émigré Italian scholar; he was the brother of poet Christina Rossetti and the critic William Michael Rossetti; and his lasting claim to fame was that he was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt.
When he was young, his passions were literature, poetry and art. A fascination with Medieval Italian art led him to pursue painting, and he studied under Ford Madox Brown, with whom he was to retain a close relationship throughout his life.
With Holman Hunt, he developed the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti's interest in the Medieval and in particular the stylistic characteristics of the early Italians. Moreover, he was publishing translations of Dante and other Medieval Italian poets, as well as absorbing the Italian influence into his painting.
His art closely mirrored his private life. His wife Elizabeth Siddal died after taking an overdose of laudanum shortly after giving birth to a dead child. When Rossetti became increasingly depressed, he buried the bulk of his unpublished poems in her grave at Highgate Cemetery though he later had them exhumed and published. Her idealised image appeared in a number of his paintings.
Rossetti depiction of women became stylised. His new lover Fanny Cornforth became physical eroticism, whilst another of his mistresses Jane Burden, the wife of his business partner William Morris, became the ethereal goddess.
Rossetti's work also became famous for him writing sonnets for his pictures. He also worked as a designer, working with William Morris to produce images for stained glass and other decorative devices.
Rossetti's final years were a slow descent into drug addiction and mental instability. He died at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England and there he was buried in that quite graveyard of a quite village.