Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Eric Garberson


This dissertation examines Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s knowledge and interpretation of the Italian Renaissance during the 1860s. I argue that there is a relationship between Rossetti’s Aestheticism and his understanding of the Italian Renaissance and that this relationship is visibly manifested in his images of women from the period. In Victorian England, Aestheticism and the philosophy of beauty for its own sake became increasingly popular throughout the 1860s. I challenge the idea that Aestheticism and an interest in Renaissance art are mutually exclusive aspects of the artist’s work. Rossetti’s images of women expressed both his understanding of Renaissance art and the central place of beauty in painting. Based upon Rossetti’s interpretation of Renaissance art and poetry, his criticism, and the criticism of his peers, this dissertation argues that the beauty of women in Rossetti’s paintings came to stand for the beauty of art. Rossetti’s paintings promoted sensual Aesthetic experience in their conflation of formal and female beauty. Using the historically idealized conventions of female portraiture, Rossetti created images of women that privileged Aesthetic beauty over narrative or moral meaning. His use of vibrant, rich color, a quality he and his peers inexorably associated with Venetian Renaissance painting, revealed the connection between Renaissance art and his Aestheticism. Color helped to define his paintings of women as examples of beautiful, sensuous painting. For Rossetti, the representation of alluring, beautiful women was the most powerful way to express the experience of Aesthetic beauty as intoxicating, sensual, and even morally ambiguous.


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Date of Submission

July 2010