La Ghirlandata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting La Ghirlandata (1873) depicts women playing musical instruments, as many of his paintings did.View images from this item (1)
Driven by, as Oscar Wilde put it, ‘three things the English public never forgives: youth, power and enthusiasm’, Pre-Raphaelitism found itself paradoxically poised between nostalgia for the past and excitement about the future. 19th-century disagreements over whether their art was forward-thinking or retrogressive set a precedent for current critical debates about the extent to which their work should be considered ‘avant-garde’.
The Awakening Conscience by William Holman Hunt
As typical of many Pre-Raphaelite artworks, William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience (1853) displays meticulous attention to detail and is full of symbolism.View images from this item (1)
The Pre-Raphaelite BrotherhoodPre-Raphaelitism began in 1848 when a group of seven young artists banded together against what they felt was an artificial and mannered approach to painting taught at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. They called themselves the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’ (PRB), a name that alluded to their preference for late medieval and early Renaissance art that came ‘before Raphael’. The painters were: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens. The non-painters were sculptor Thomas Woolner and Brotherhood secretary William Michael Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s brother. Inspired by the work of old masters such as Van Eyck, Memling, Mantegna, Giotto and Fra Angelico, and following a programme of ‘truth to nature’, the artists advocated a return to the simplicity and sincerity of subject and style found in an earlier age. Their aims were vague and contradictory, even paradoxical, which was only to be expected from a youthful movement made up of strong-minded individuals who sought to modernise art by reviving the practices of the Middle Ages.
The Blue Closet by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Blue Closet (1857) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a prime example of the Pre-Raphaelites's use of Medieval imagery.View images from this item (1)
Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50) shocked critics when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850.View images from this item (1)
Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Like Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents, Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti provoked strong opinions from critics for its depiction of a religious subject. His sister, the poet Christina Rossetti, was the model for Mary, right.View images from this item (1)
Review of Royal Academy exhibition of 1850
A damning review of the Pre-Raphaelites’s artworks on display at the 1850 Royal Academy exhibition.View images from this item (2)
Ophelia by John Everett Millais
Ophelia (1851-52) by John Everett Millais, inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet. Shakespeare was admired by the Pre-Raphaelites and was on their list of ‘Immortals’.View images from this item (1)
Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ
Front cover of Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, 1850, which set out the group’s vision and included art, poetry and essays.View images from this item (7)
The Moxon illustrated edition of Tennyson's Poems
William Holman Hunt’s illustration to ‘The Lady of Shalott’ from the Moxon edition of Tennyson’s Poems, 1857. Hunt later turned the image into a painting.View images from this item (6)
Notebook of Christina Rossetti (two of six), 18 December 1856-29 June 1858
Manuscript copy of ‘In an Artist’s Studio’ by Christina Rossetti, copied into one of her notebooks, 1856. A comment on the female muse, the poem remained unpublished during her lifetime.View images from this item (68)
Pre-Raphaelitism’s Second PhasePre-Raphaelitism survived the Brotherhood’s dissolution in the early 1850s, resurfacing in 1857 when Oxford undergraduates William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones teamed up with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and painters Arthur Hughes, Valentine Prinsep and others to decorate the Oxford Union debating chamber with Arthurian murals. In London, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Ruskin, Prinsep and painter Ford Madox Brown taught art classes at the Working Men’s College, a Christian Socialist institution that sought to give working class men access to a liberal education. These adventures put the wind back in the sails of the Pre-Raphaelite movement; in 1861, Ford Madox Brown and architect Philip Webb (among others) joined Morris, Burne-Jones and Rossetti in founding a decorative arts firm which would become Morris & Co. As a protest against mass-production in the industrial era, the firm’s designers revived hand-crafting and old techniques in order to emphasise the unique qualities and the beauty of natural materials, inaugurating the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Literary Success and ControversyImportant literary developments of this period included a volume of William Morris’s poems, The Defence of Guenevere (1858), and George Meredith’s Modern Love (1862), a scandalous sonnet sequence about marital breakdown. Christina Rossetti’s poetry collection, Goblin Market (1862), was the first unqualified Pre-Raphaelite literary success. Illustrated by her brother Dante Gabriel in a style that would become widely imitated, it was also a landmark publication in terms of Victorian book illustration. Critical reaction against Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads 1866, whose subjects included necrophilia, sado-masochism and blasphemy, caused the publisher to withdraw the volume. Championed first by the Pre-Raphaelites and later by the Aesthetes of the fin-de-siècle, Swinburne’s controversial ideas about poetry’s purpose evolved into an aesthetic philosophy that elevated artistic quality over moral, political or social content.
Pre-Raphaelitism’s Later Stages & InfluenceDante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems, 1870 attracted the critical ire of Robert Buchanan. His excoriating review, entitled ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, attacked Pre-Raphaelite poetry for its eroticism, medievalism and general rebellion against cultural norms. The very qualities derided by Buchanan attracted influential critic Walter Pater, who took over from John Ruskin as defender of the Pre-Raphaelites. Pater’s essays praising the art and poetry of Morris and Rossetti would become seminal works of Aestheticism. They were reprinted in various versions and editions from 1868 to the late 1880s, including Appreciations: With An Essay on Style (1889). Proto-aesthetic qualities were also evident in Pre-Raphaelite paintings of the 1870s and 1880s which featured striking, sensual figures in narratively ambiguous situations. Examples include Rossetti’s and Astarte Syriaca (1877) and The Day-Dream (1880) and Burne-Jones’s Laus Veneris (1875) and The Golden Stairs (1880), works which anticipated Symbolist art.
William Morris's News from Nowhere
News from Nowhere by William Morris, 1890. Frontispiece illustration depicts a Socialist ideal of freedom, equality and fraternity across the globe.View images from this item (3)
A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley’s cover design for magazine The Savoy, here reprinted in 1897. The Aesthetes and Decadents were strongly influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism.View images from this item (12)
 Oscar Wilde, ‘The English Renaissance of Art’, Essays and Lectures by Oscar Wilde (London: Methuen, 1908), p.120.
 Tractarianism grew out of the Oxford Movement (1833-41), which advocated, among other things, the restoration of religious rituals long abandoned by the Church of England. Its views were widely regarded as uncomfortably sympathetic to Roman Catholicism.
 Charles Dickens, ‘Old Lamps for New Ones’, Household Words, 12 (15 June 1850), p.12.
 The ‘Moxon illustrated edition’ of Tennyson’s Poems (London: Moxon, 1857).
 Robert Buchanan, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr D G Rossetti’ first published in The Contemporary Review, 18 (August-November 1871).
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