Early works to Pre-Raphaelitism

Rossetti's early drawings, inspired by romantic poetry, dwelt on supernatural and moral themes. At first heavily shaded, his technique became progressively lighter, flatter and more linear. In 1848, Rossetti, with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Between them they created a new, simplified style, deliberately archaic and expressive. They were inspired by the art of the Middle Ages and early Italian Renaissance.

Rossetti's first two oil paintings, on the theme of the purity of the Virgin Mary, helped to define the new style.

Portrait of a young Virgin Mary with long red hair and a halo

The early Pre-Raphaelite circle

The Pre-Raphaelites drew many portraits of each other, their families and friends. They could not often afford professional models and so they sat for characters in each other's paintings. They also made portrait drawings as tokens of love and friendship. Rossetti virtually stopped exhibiting in public after 1850. Instead he formed his own network of likeminded friends, artists and patrons.