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Rossetti as designer

Detail from a stained glass window showing a man kissing a woman's hand

As well as being a painter and poet, Rossetti was involved in many other areas of art and design.

He was a pioneer of frame design, for example. He cared deeply about the way his paintings were presented. He felt that the busy patterns and restlessly curving lines of the frames used by contemporaries distracted the eye from his pictures. He designed his own simple frames with straight outlines, plain, flat backgrounds and sparing use of decoration.

A number of frame types recur in his work, though often used with variations. For important pictures he designed one-off frames. The ornamental motifs he used on his frames were personal and original, some abstract, some echoing the symbolism of his paintings. Rossetti's frames were integral to his conception of a work of art as a beautiful object.

Bookbindings

Rossetti took as much care over the appearance of his books as he did over his paintings. He also designed bindings for books of poetry by his sister Christina and by his friend Swinburne. He went to a great deal of trouble to choose the colours and textures of the cloths and to position the gold lines and motifs.

His designs were spare, simple and elegant, far more so than most contemporary Victorian bindings, which he considered ugly. His bindings were also inexpensive, using cheap, easily available materials.

Stained glass

Rossetti designed a small amount of stained glass for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. He produced far less glass than the other members of the firm and seems to have lost interest in the medium around 1864.

Furniture

Rossetti designed only a few pieces of furniture. His sofa of 1862, designed for William Morris's firm, was spare and light, in keeping with the most advanced contemporary designs of the Aesthetic Movement. Neither the sofa nor the matching sideboard still exist, but there are many surviving examples of the rush-seated armchair manufactured by Morris and named after Rossetti, though it cannot be proved that he actually designed it. It too is light and informal. Rossetti also designed a more conventional upholstered sofa for his house in Cheyne Walk, London decorated with painted panels (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).