Francesca Da Rimini. (Dante.)

Alternately titled: Paolo and Francesca da Rimini

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1862 September
Date: 1855
Rhyme: terza rima
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: translation


◦ Bentley,“The Love Kiss in Dante Rossetti”, 31-44

◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 141.

◦ Gray, Rossetti, Dante, and Ourselves.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 116

◦ Rees, Poetry of DGR, chapter 5.

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 24

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 147-148, 181-183

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 36-39.

The Pre–Raphaelites , Tate 1984, 278

◦ Treuherz, Prettijohn, Becker, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 159.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poems (1881) text.

Scholarly Commentary


The story of Paolo and Francesca, and in particular Dante's text, so pervades DGR's imagination that one scarcely knows where to begin tracing it, or assessing its importance. The earliest drawings date from the late 1840s, but DGR did not complete a finished watercolour until 1855. He made an enlarged replica of this work in 1862, when he also wrote his translation of the relevant passage in Dante to accompany the picture. Paintings and drawings like “The Rose Garden” and “Love's Greeting”, as well as the pictures that relate to Goethe's treatment of Faust and Margaret, and Keats's “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, are all part of the same Rossettian constellation of interest. The textual materials related to these pictorial works, like Faust and the Roman de la Rose, are equally pertinent, as is Rossetti's personal recapitulation of the entire complex of medieval courtly love.

Of particular importance is the literary focus that pervades the Paolo and Francesca subject. The story attracts DGR not only as a powerful nexus of complex moral/spiritual ideas; it is equally a story in which his entire aesthetic outlook, which centers in the pursuit of the “double work of art”, receives explicit (and ambiguous) treatment.

The curious admixture of visionary power and felt tenderness pervading this work did not go unremarked by Rossetti's contemporaries. Of these early recognitions, perhaps the most crucial occurs in Swinburne's William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), where Swinburne makes clear his sense that any discussion of Blake's re-imaginings of Dante must now also take into account Rossetti's vision of Paolo and Francesca: “Others have painted the episode of Francesca with more or less vigour and beauty; once above all an artist to whom any reference here must be taken as especially apposite has given with the tenderest perfection of power, first the beauty of beginning love in the light and air of life on earth, then the passion of imperishable desire under the dropping tongues of flame in hell. To the right the lovers are drawn close, yearning one toward another with touch of tightened hands and insatiable appeal of lips; behind them the bower lattice opens on deep sunshine and luminous leaves; to the left, they drift before the wind of hell, floated along the misty and straining air, fastened one upon another among the fires, pale with perpetual division of pain; and between them the witnesses stand sadly, as men that look before and after. Blake has given nothing like this: of personal beauty and special tenderness his design has none; it starts from other ground” (74).

Textual History: Composition

Although WMR dates the poem 1878 (1911), the fair copy manuscript is dated September 1862, the month that DGR sold the enlarged three-panel watercolor of his Paolo and Francesca to James Leathart. Evidently the translation was meant to accompany the picture; both are in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (Beford). A copy with corrections and additions to the 1862 manuscript is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. DGR made another, different copy (now in the Lilly Library) that is closest to the version he published in 1879. This manuscript has some revisions as well.

Production History

This important subject preoccupied DGR for much of his life as an artist, and it assumes many variant forms. The Paolo and Francesca story, however, comes into his pictorial work perhaps as early as 1846, and by 1849 he was working on a serious drawing of the subject. In 1855 he completed a major watercolor in three panels, and he made two other replicas later, in 1862 and 1867.

Fredeman's account of this picture and some others DGR was executing under Ruskin's influence and encouragement in 1855 is important (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 55. 57n. 1 ).

Printing History

DGR briefly thought to print the translation in the 1870 Poems, an idea that came to him at the very end of the proof process for that volume. But he didn't do so. (See Doughty and Wahl, Letters vol. 2, 829-831, 834 .) He eventually published it in The Athenaeum (11 January 1879) and then included it in the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, and it was collected thereafter.


The text translates the famous passage from Dante's Inferno V. 112-142.


DGR's is an excellent translation that follows the terza rima of the original. It should probably be compared with Byron's earlier attempt to render Dante's text (Byron's translation is also in terza rima).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 7-1878.s75.raw.xml