On this Date in History, May 12: Rossetti, Stella and the façade for the Duomo of Florence

What happened in the world of art history on May 12?

In 1828 English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (May 12, 1828 – April 9, 1882) was born in London.  Rossetti was the founder of a group of artists known as the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" whose style changed the face of 19th century British art.  The Pre-Raphaelites took their inspiration from an earlier time (before the work of Raphael) and looked to Medieval and early Renaissance Art as well as Medieval literature such as the Italian poet Dante Alighieri after whom Rossetti was named.

Rossetti painted dozens of works in his lifetime, often focusing on female figures from classical mythology or literature.  The below work, Beata Beatrix, refers to Dante's muse, Beatrice Portinari and shows her at her moment of death.  The model for the painting was Rossetti's wife Elizabeth Sidall who had recently died.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1863, Tate Britain, London


On May 12 in 1887 the façade for the Cathedral of Florence (the Duomo) was unveiled.  The Neo Gothic façade was designed by Italian architect Emilio De Fabris in the 1860's.  As you can see from Giotto's 14th century Campanile (bell tower) to the right, De Fabris was interested in creating a 19th century façade that blended seamlessly with the rest of the much older cathedral.  The façade until the mid-19th century had a plain front.

The Duomo of Florence is one of the largest churches in Europe, the plans and design for it spanned over 600 years and the unveiling of the façade was one of the last steps towards its completion.

There was a revival of Gothic (12th-14th century) art and architecture in the 19th century, such as in the above example of the art of Rossetti.  With the advent of the Industrial Revolution the Gothic age was romanticized and presented as the return to a simpler time.  In the case of the façade of the Duomo, working in the Gothic style presented a harmonious design which visually unified the cathedral.

Façade of the Cathedral of Florence 'Duomo' in Italy with the Campanile to the right


1936 Frank Stella was born in Massachusetts, today he lives and works in New York City, he has lived there since graduating from Princeton in 1958.  He is well known in art history as a modern painter whose work in the late 1950's and 60's was a departure from Abstract Expressionism.  Instead he developed a style of minimalism and used geometric forms, his work influenced a new generation of modern painters.



Frank Stella, Harran II, 1967, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York



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