Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass, --
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky: --
So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.
'Silent Noon', Sonnet 19, The House of Life, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was one of the cofounders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters and poets who rejected Victorian materialism and instead took inspiration from the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to 'go to nature' for their muse. Principal themes in the Pre Raphaelites’ work include religion, death and love.
The Brotherhood's early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:
1. To have genuine ideas to express;
2. To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
3. To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;
4. Most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.
Influenced by Romanticism and the prominence given to individual sensory experience, they were also inspired by medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity; they also greatly admired the works of the early Italian artists, with their pre-Renaissance purity of spirit. The resulting trademark style of the Pre-Raphaelites is a sumptuous and lavish expression of life in all its flamboyant grandeur and glory.
Many of Rossetti’s paintings feature his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris. He also frequently wrote poetry to accompany his visual work. After leaving the Royal Academy in 1848, Rossetti wrote The House of Life, a sequence of 102 sonnets and suffused with a man's reluctant acceptance of the transience of time and love, and which is considered to be his masterpiece:
A Sonnet is a moment's monument -
Memorial from the Soul's eternity
To one dead deathless hour.
'The House of Life'
Negative reaction of critics to Rossetti's first collection of poetry, however, contributed to a mental breakdown in 1872. Toward the end of his life, he sank into deep depression, exacerbated by his drug addiction and increasing mental instability. Nevertheless, the legacy of his artistic vision is felt even to this day and is a refreshing counterpoint to the often meaningless and self-satisfied offerings that present themselves today as Modern Art.