ossetti's early labels for himself, particularly "Art-Catholic," only isolated certain not altogether successful strains in his art. Both terms, "Art-Catholic" and "Pre-Raphaelite," oversimplify Rossetti's early career by suggesting an exclusive concern with medieval subjects and styles, and with an archaic and unconvincing spiritualism. In fact, his self-definitions have led to comparative neglect of a formative influence at least as important as the early Italians. He was indeed nurtured on medieval Italian literature, but he also reveled from an early age in northern gothic, the "modern gothic" of Meinhold, Chamisso, Maturin, Monk Lewis, and Poe. The original source of most of Rossetti's concerns — and most of his imagery — is this combined stream of genuine southern medievalism and sham northern gothic. And remarkably, though Rossetti was never able to exploit the spiritual values of medieval Christianity, he was able to find images of soul that corresponded to his own experience and sensibility in the far less revered supernaturalism of gothic tales. He was evidently more comfortable using the versions of the supernatural presented in Chamisso's Peter Schlemihl than he was using Dante's Christianity. In fact, though he certainly never accepted gothic supernaturalism as true, he did find in it images that corresponded to the truth as he knew it, and that he used from his earliest poetry to his latest.
The influence of gothic tales on Rossetti's imagination, actually, was probably greater than the influence of medieval Christianity, if only because the supernatural machinery did not advance the same claims to be taken seriously, but did provide metaphors for poetry — and handles for coming to grips with various modern dilemmas. In the first place, the gothic tales provided a release from the Catholicism of the early Italians, since the Catholicism they featured was usually mocked — monks were corrupt, monasteries were dens of sadism and masochism, and the church itself was a massive Inquisition.
[To what extent do these remarks apply to Christina as well, and where does her work differ from her brother's?]
Riede, David G. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Limits of Victorian Vision. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983. 24.
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