Rossetti rebelled against tradition and academic training after being educated at Sass's School and the Royal Academy, which had become a self-perpetuating institution whose members served on juries for all exhibitions and membership was selected from successful exhibitors. Royal Academy exhibitions were also the major sales outlet mid-century and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood reacted as much against the institution as the style of painting it produced, profoundly impacting the nature of exhibits and sales thereafter.
Although Rossetti is one of the most celebrated Pre-Raphaelites, few of his canvases actually adhered to the religious and literary themes which the Brotherhood embraced. From the 1850s until mid-1860s, Rossetti's themes in both painting and poetry were drawn from Dante and Arthurian legends. After that his work centered on the depiction of an idealized and sensual yet indifferent, mysterious and, ultimately, unattainable woman. Often using Elizabeth Siddal as his model, to whom Rossetti was engaged for ten years, Rossetti's themes shifted away from medieval idealism upon her death in 1862.
In addition to his participation in the Brotherhood, Rossetti was the mentor of Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, dominant figures in the second generation Pre- Raphaelite circle manifest as the Aesthetic Movement and Arts and Crafts Movement.