Dante

Portrait of a young man looking downwards

The medieval Florentine poet Dante Alighieri was the Italian national poet. As such, he was close to the heart of the Rossetti family, who maintained a strong Italian identity. Dante was also personally adopted by Rossetti, his namesake, as an artistic role model.

As early as 1848, Rossetti translated Dante's 'Vita Nuova' (The New Life) into English and planned a series of pictorial designs to accompany it. This project was the foundation of his double career as poet and painter. Soon afterwards he altered his name to identify himself with Dante. Although he had been christened `Gabriel Charles Dante`, from 1849 he reversed the order to sign himself `Dante Gabriel`.

Unsurprisingly, both his poetry and his painting show an intimate knowledge of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. This was Dante's three-part vision of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, epic in length and literary importance. But the crucial text for Rossetti always remained the 'Vita Nuova', the earlier and shorter work. In prose interspersed with verse, it tells the story of Dante's love for Beatrice on earth.