If you’re yet to call in at the Tate Britain’s major exhibition ‘The Rossettis’, make sure you have it bookmarked as an essential visit this summer before it ends on September 24th. Devoted to the radical Rossetti generation, the show invites audiences into a multi-sensory realm of art, design, poetry and above all the drama of one of the most romantic families of the 19th century. As London readies itself for Fashion Week and Frieze, an afternoon spent with the Rossettis will set in motion a September of inspiring ideas and appreciation of the radical design about to proliferate throughout our city once again.

Upon entering the exhibition you’ll find that your eyes are drawn to the delicate pastel hues of The Annunciation (by a 22-year-old Gabriel Dante Rossetti), and your ears attuned to the spirited recitals of Christina Rossetti’s poetry playing through spotlighted speakers. Her insightful poems that capture the complex inner workings of a 19-year-old’s mind are also inscribed on the walls to ponder yourself.

Siblings, Christina and Gabriel were two of four born to an Italian revolutionary living in conservative Victorian London. All four children inherited their father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti’s eccentric, radical mindset, growing up to spearhead the first British avant-garde movement; the Pre-Raphelites of the 19th century.

Known today through the proliferation of painted red-headed beauties, the Pre-Raphelites were the manifestation of rebellious spirit. The movement sought an alternative to the conventional and conservative attitudes within the Royal Academy of Art and looked back to the defined simplicity of painting before the High Renaissance, and Raphael in particular.

As you venture into the monumental exhibition and take in everything from miniature books and inky sketches to overwhelmingly large yet exquisitely detailed paintings, you start to grasp the cornucopia of talent that was the Rossettis. The soft strokes of paint in the experimenting teenagers’ early work grows into a tapestry of rich colours that celebrate the spiritual and visual force of art, symbols and ideas. Yearning to capture bucolic scenes beyond the confines of industrial London, are their paintings akin to the social media cottage core craze of today?

Christina and her sister Mary paved the way for womankind, both then and now. Both tore up the traditional rulebook of their generation and chose to remain unmarried. Christina worked charitably with former sex workers, welcoming them into society at a time when they were publicly shunned. Her most celebrated work The Goblin Market, (the 1865 edition on show in the exhibition) is a feminist epic that made her a Victorian-day celebrity.

Their brothers did marry, but they too went against the grain, marrying across classes and exploring new ways of living, constantly inspired by art, dress and designs. They also painted women from the working class like in The Beloved, a Pre-Raphaelite vision of universal female beauty. In the centre, of course, is a red-headed woman, which has evolved into the everlasting icon of the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic.

The Rossettis exhibition will run until the 24th of September at the Tate Britain, London. Book tickets at tate.org.uk...

By Minna Coke