Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, who later changed the order of his names to stress his kinship with the great Italian poet Dante, was born in London May 12, 1828, to his Italian immigrant parents.
In the late '60s Rossetti began to suffer from headaches and weakened eyesight, and began to take chloral mixed with whiskey to cure insomnia; such mixture made worse his depression and paranoia. Critic Robert Buchanan attacked Rossetti and Swinburne, calling his school "The Fleshly School of Poetry" (1871). Such attack —there are plenty of reviews of books of Buchanan in the Web— changed him completely. In the summer of 1872 he suffered a mental breakdown, complete with hallucinations and accusing voices. He was taken to Scotland, where he attempted suicide, but gradually recovered, and within a few months was able to paint again. He died of kidney failure on April 9, 1882.
The group members (or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as they called themselves) insisted that painters should paint whatever they see, and not follow the formal rules of painting. Nature was to be painted just as it was filtered by the painter’s experience, and in no way altered just because of the methods of previous painters.
In becoming a writer, or a painter, or an artist in general, creative people must often break away from the strait-jackets imposed by tradition. A similar attitude we find in novelist Janes Asten (austen persuasion), who rebelled against the Gothic patterns of her predecessors.
To highlight their new direction in painting, they called the group Pre-Raphaelite, not because they wanted to honor early Italian painting but because they wanted to break away from the rules and strictures laid down by Raphael for painting ideal figures.
Not only did their work showed respect for nature, but also profound personal experiences. They achieved sharply realized details. They took not the least account of the poverty or the vitality of contemporary England and its social and economic problems, turning instead to a heroic and embellished world of the Middle Ages, and also to a poetry which by symbolism, imagery, and music created a pictorial impression or a vague mood from which all ideas sometimes disappeared.
For the sensual elements ("fleshly mysticism") of such poems as Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel they were condemned with the pejorative sobriquet: the "fleshly school."
Art was then enriched by the Pre-Raphaelites, by disengaging art from the mundane and vulgar events that happened in the world. In that, they held that it is not the business of the artist to instruct or to solve social problems; they believe in ‘art for art’s sake.’ And by skirting the contemporary life ugly issues, they were able to focus in the sensuous and decorative beauty—they achieved the new direction they so much desired.
The group was influential in subsequent artists, such as the symbolists.