Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Highgate Cemetery- The Rossetti Family

Following on from my previous post, one of the sites I was keen to see on my visit to Highgate Cemetery was the burial site of the Rossetti family.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti- Lady Lilith 

Both my mum and me are  fans of the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, we went to see the exhibition of the pre-Raphaelite brothers at the Tate. Lady Lilith is a particular favourite of mine, the colours and textures are so lush. Plus, I have complete hair envy.

My main interest however is in the Rossetti women. Dante's sister, Christina was a talented poet. Her poem Goblin Market can be read here. It is a sapphic and delightfully creepy fairytale.

Dante's mistreated wife, Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Siddal, is also of interest to me. She was often overlooked, best known as a muse for the PRB, she a talented poet and painter in her own right. Her death and Dante's subsequent actions are one of the more tragic and infamous tales of Highgate Cemetery.

Rossetti family grave 
Lizzie, depressed and neglected by philandering Dante, died in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum shortly after becoming pregnant. Dante consumed by grief and  plagued by a guilty conscious, enclosed the only copy of a collection of poems in Lizzie's coffin, tenderly placing it on her abundant red-gold hair.

By 1869, Dante was addicted to drugs, growing blind and obsessed with retrieving the poem he buried with Lizzie. In the secrecy of night, Lizzie's coffin was exhumed, her copper hair had continued to grow and filled the wooden box. The manuscript was difficult to read, worm eaten and decayed.

Dante published the retrieved poems alongside a new collection. They were poorly received and Dante was forever haunted by the exhumation. I like to think Dante got what he deserved, for his lying, cheating mistreatment of Lizzie.        

According to the tour guide- there have been two instances of exhumation in the history of Highgate Cemetery. The grave site isn't on the usual tour, so you will have to make a request if you want to see if.

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