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“The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice (1853)

The First Anniversary by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti shows  Dante morning the Death of Beatrice, who was the object of his unfulfilled love.

The artist, Rossetti, had a lifelong passion for the works of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and this watercolor from 1853 is an essential picture in the art history of the period.

This painting was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova. This picture references the scene in the Vita Nuova where Dante Alighieri writes that:

“I set myself again to mine occupation, to wit, to the drawing figures of angels: in doing which, I conceived of writing of this matter in rhyme, as for her anniversary.”

Rossetti, in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, created a work full of complex symbols which include:

  • A cross-bow, symbol of Dante’s active life, hangs on an easel at the right of the picture
  • A quill pen and ink bowl below the cross-bow
  • On the left of the window is a lily, symbol of Florence
  • On the right, a pomegranate
  • Vanitas symbols such as a lute, a skull, an ivy tendril, symbolic of the transience of life
  • A book of Virgil

When John Ruskin first saw this picture, he made his first contact with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and wrote to him:

“I think it is a thoroughly glorious work—the most perfect piece of Italy,
in the accessory parts, I have ever seen in my life
– not of Italy only—but of marvelous landscape painting.
… I shall call on you in a day or two
– hoping you will allow me the privilege of knowing you.”

This artwork is the second that Rossetti made on the same subject. The first is the drawing made with pen on paper in 1849.

Both the drawing and this later watercolor show the influenced by Dürer and the Flemish works that Rossetti saw on his trip to the continent in 1849.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice (1849)

“The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1849 – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 


Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was an Italian poet during the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is considered the most famous poem of the Middle Ages and the most significant literary work in the Italian language.

Dante was instrumental in establishing the literature of Italy, and his depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven inspired the larger body of Western art.

Also, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme is attributed to him. In Italy, he is often referred to as “the Supreme Poet.”


Beatrice “Bice” di Folco Portinari (1265 – 1290) was an Italian woman who has been commonly identified as the main inspiration for Dante’s Vita Nuova.

She is identified with the Beatrice, who appears as one of his guides in the Divine Comedy. There she takes over as guide from the Latin poet Virgil. Virgil, as a pagan, could not enter Paradise.

Beatrice, as the incarnation of heavenly love, as her name implies, is the one who leads into the beatific vision.

Dante claims to have met a “Beatrice” only twice. On occasions separated by nine years. However, he was so affected by the meetings that he carried his love for her throughout his life.

La Vita Nuova

La Vita Nuova is a text by Dante Alighieri published in 1294. It is an expression of the medieval genre of courtly love in a prosimetrum style, a combination of both prose and verse.

Dante dealt with his love for Beatrice, explaining the autobiographical context of its composition. The result was a landmark in the development of emotional autobiography.

Dante and his audience were interested in the emotions of courtly love, and how they develop, how they are expressed in verse.

Dante Alighieri Quotes


“In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”
– Dante Alighieri


“Do not be afraid; our fate.
It cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
– Dante Alighieri


“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always.”
– Dante Alighieri


“My course is set for an uncharted sea.”
– Dante Alighieri


“There is no greater sorrow Than to be mindful of the happy time In misery.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The more a thing is perfect, the more it feels pleasure and pain.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The wisest are the most annoyed at the loss of time.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
– Dante Alighieri


“The path to paradise begins in hell.”
– Dante Alighieri


“From a little spark may burst a flame.”
– Dante Alighieri


“A great flame follows a little spark.”
– Dante Alighieri


Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) was a British poet, illustrator, painter, and translator, who founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

Its sensuality and its medieval revivalism characterized Rossetti’s art. Rossetti’s personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses.


The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.

The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy.

They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – Medieval Revivalism

The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice – Watercolor

  • Title:                The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice
  • Alternatives:    Dante Drawing an Angel or Dante drawing an Angel on the Anniversary of Beatrice’s Death
  • Artist:              Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Date:               1853
  • Medium:         Watercolor
  • Style:               Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:  Height: 16.5 in (41.9 cm); Width: 24 in (60.9 cm)
  • Museum:        Ashmolean Museum

The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice – Drawing

  • Title:                The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice
  • Alternatives:    Dante Drawing the Angel
  • Artist:              Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Date:               1849
  • Medium:         Pen and brown ink on card
  • Style:               Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:    Height: 15.7 in (40 cm); Width: 12.6 in (32 cm)
  • Museum:        Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

Frederick Sandys

Frank Dicksee

John Collier

William Dyce

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Virtual Tour of Ashmolean Museum


“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin


Photo Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti / Public domain

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