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Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Pre-Raphaelite artistic journey

Gabriele d’Annunzio was an ardent spirit and maintained extremely varied and remarkable connections and relations with foreign countries. If we analyze the purely artistic-literary aspects and turn our gaze to Great Britain and Ireland, we will notice that the Barrel borrowed much from the culture of the other side of the Channel, whose avant-garde aesthetic taste he adopted, as well as from the unparalleled Pre-Raphaelitism in the use of symbols and the creation of verse.

Emanuela Borgatta, teacher, freelance writer and columnist, edits a documented essay, the result of years of research into D’Annunzio. The author of the discoveries he encountered along the way passes D’Annunzio. Cross-channel connections, edited by Ianieri Edizioni (in a bilingual version: Italian-English), leads us to an unpublished d’Annunzio. A new journey (accessible to everyone and aimed at both Italian and Anglo-Saxon readers) testifies to the eternal contemporaneity of the poet.

The book is accompanied by introductions by Franco Di Tizio and Rebecca Lipkin, as well as a corollary of interviews with writers and curators and a meeting with Giordano Bruno Guerri, dedicated to the future of the Vittoriale.

The excerpt below is devoted to the Rossettian and Pre-Raphaelite influences on Gabriele d’Annunzio.

I may be permitted, in deference to the grief, to speak first of my dearly beloved friend, Gabriel Rossetti. But on account of justice, no less than on account of the kindness resulting from death, I believe that his name should be placed first in the list of men, within my own range of knowledge, who have raised the spirit of modern art and changed: absolute realization; changed, towards mood. Rossetti added to the previously accepted color systems in painting, a system based on the principles of manuscript illumination, allowing his design to rival the finest qualities of painted glass, without losing the mystery or dignity of light and shadow. And he was, as I now generally admit, the chief intellectual force in the founding of the modern romantic school in England.

Those familiar with my earlier writings should be aware that I always use the word “romantic” in a noble sense; by this is meant the habit of considering the external and real world, as a singer of Romaunts would have seen it in the Middle Ages, and as Scott, Burns, Byron, and Tennyson would have seen it in our own time.

(The Art of England and the Joys of England, John Ruskin, 1900)

From the words of critic John Ruskin it is easy to guess what central role – in the United Kingdom and in the Brotherhood – the aforementioned leader Dante Gabriel Rossetti has, while in Italy the similar cenacle In Arte Libertas took his first steps and met at the Cafe Greco in Rome (a neuralgic meeting place for artists and intellectuals), thanks to the support of personalities such as Ugo Ojetti, Nino Costa and Giulio Aristide Sartorio (the latter two, considered the Pre-Raphaelite painters eminentlyamong Italian artists) who shared with their English ‘colleagues’ the rejection of the Academy and thought they wanted to break conventional patterns.

In a journalistic piece from 1883, Gabriele d’Annunzio, who sides with them, says:

We demand something different; we demand something truly youthful, something truly new. We are tired of this solidity that is heaviness, this sameness that is coldness, this realism that is ugliness, this fantasy that is elevation, this drama that is inertia.

D’Annunzio’s taste (as an honorary member of In Arte Libertas) embraced the primitivism and medieval character typical of the English masters, reinterpreting them in an aesthetic and decadent tone. However, his Pre-Raphaelitism is not entirely decorative, as has often been emphasized and like his Pages about art would have us believe. This is especially evident in the two opposing visions of femininity that de Vate derived directly from Rossetti’s plans, with constant narrative ‘games’ between the angelic woman (à la Beata Beatrix) and the femme fatale (à la Lady Lylith), a concept reinforced by the first Pre-Raphaelite revival in Italy after Rossetti’s death and by two exhibitions: the Roman In Arte Libertas held in 1890 and the first Venice Biennale in 1895, allowing d’Annunzio, who participated on the evening of November 8 with a speech singing the praises of Venice, to add pieces to his personal Pre-Raphaelite puzzle. Indeed, many excellent guests had been invited: from Millais to Hunt, from Arthur Hughes to GF Watts, and from Leighton to Michetti. However, it should be pointed out that d’Annunzio discovered the art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti later than that of Alma-Tadema, thanks to Giulio Aristide Sartorio, and there are many features in common with the London painter (but of Vasto origin), not only on an artistic-literary level.

Rossetti in fact lived in a house (unfortunately not preserved) known for its many extravagances reminiscent of the Vittoriale years (see Chapter V), and shared with d’Annunzio a reluctance to travel, a deep-rooted love for his family, as well as as a strong temperament for the feminine universe, at the expense of his only wife, Elizabeth Siddall, known to most as Siddal, since Rossetti advised her to drop the double consonant to make her name more musical (easy in this sense , the comparison with d’Annunzio, who married only once and was prone to changing the names of his female companions).

Rossetti’s verse and brushstroke glorified d’Annunzio for their intrinsic symbolism and anti-academism, even going so far as to praise the Pre-Raphaelite journal The germadmirably edited by William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel.

The bond between d’Annunzio and Rossetti also united those who were their greatest muses: the aforementioned Siddal, an angelic woman, married and portrayed several times (Maria Hardouin, the poet’s wife), the inspiring muse Jane Burden, the woman of his friend William Morris (the actress Eleonora Duse for d’Annunzio) and Fanny Cornforth, an all-round female character and one of the painter’s favorite models, comparable to the many women who were ‘passing through’ in the life of the Vate.

We can therefore go so far as to conclude that we would not have had the d’Annunzio we know without Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Pre-Raphaelitism.