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Pre-Raphaelite

Pre-Raphaelite

The mainstream culture in almost every era in history has had a counterculture. Progressive or regressive, these countercultural movements are formed by people who swim against the tide. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, was such a movement.

The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of young artists and writers of the Victorian era who formed the foundation called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. With its tenets and principles, the brotherhood was similar to the modern-day fraternities and sororities, but they liked to contemplate literature and art.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement

The Pre-Raphaelite movement was inspired by the early Renaissance style of painting and artistic sensibility.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a cultural movement that sought to reform the aesthetic values and principles of the Victorian era. The group rebelled against the popularity of Raphael and aspired to turn back the clock on art history. For them, the objective of art was realism and authenticity. The Pre-Raphaelites are artists or writers who were either part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or were loosely associated with the movement.

Pre-Raphaelite: Meaning

In literature and art history, a Pre-Raphaelite is a person who was a member of the controversial movement and fraternity Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood during the nineteenth century.

They were controversial due to their values and admiration of the aesthetic and artistic conventions of the time before the Italian painter Raphael. This inspired the name Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was partly inspired by their contemporary, John Ruskin. Ruskin was a writer, traveller, and philosopher who opposed the loyalty of the British Royal Academy of Arts to Raphael.

The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were:

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • William Michael Rossetti
  • William Holman Hunt
  • John Everett Millais
  • James Collinson
  • Frederic George Stephens
  • Thomas Woolner.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti remains the most famous member of the group and was a poet and painter. His sister Christina Rosetti is also a famous poet from the Pre-Raphaelite era. The brotherhood dissolved in the 1850s.

The Pre-Raphaelite era

The Pre-Raphaelites were active during the Victorian era and infamously rejected the Victorian ethos and popular notions of art and literature. Their countercultural beliefs drew widespread criticism, even from popular personalities like Charles Dickens. The public criticism eventually led to their dissolution.

An interesting aspect of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was their devotion to religion, mainly Christianity. Their works often contained Christian motifs and imagery, albeit in unconventional ways. Pre-Raphaelites are known for their symbolism and unflattering portraits, which was a facet of their rejection of idealistic portrayals that succeeded Raphael. Some of the most famous works by the Pre-Raphaelites include:

  • Ophelia (1851–1852) and Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50) by Sir John Everett Millais
  • Proserpine (1874) and Lady Lilith (1866–1868) by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
  • Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891) by John William Waterhouse
  • Our English Coasts (1852) by William Holman Hunt.

The famous "List of Immortals" created by the Pre-Raphaelites judged and rated renowned artists and writers throughout history based on artistic quality and merit. Although the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was controversial at the time and its fame slowly faded, it influenced several generations of writers and artists.

The Decadent Movement, another countercultural movement that came to be in the late-nineteenth century, was heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.

Pre-Raphaelite literature, however, does not enjoy the fame and attention today as other genres and movements receive from literary scholars.

Pre-Raphaelite: Characteristics

The influences of naturalism and Romanticism are visible and distinct in the Pre-Raphaelite style. Pre-Raphaelite art and literature emphasised fidelity and realism, even at the risk of unpleasantness. The Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by Ruskin, who nudged artists to turn to nature. A return to the Natural was considered an escape from the artificiality of forms amid rapid industrialisation. Like Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Pre-Raphaelite literature also paid attention to details, achieving a unique realism. Symbolism is another aspect of Pre-Raphaelite art and literature.

The values of the Brotherhood are expressed well in the principles set forth by its founding members. The tenets put forward by William Michael Rossetti as the principles of the Brotherhood were:

  • have genuine ideas
  • pay attention to nature attentively
  • focus on what is direct and serious in art from the past
  • avoid what is conventional, inauthentic, and repetitive
  • create good art

The Brotherhood believed that the artist should be free to form their own conventions and ways of representation. A remarkable feature of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and literature was their ability to combine mysticism, elements from nature, and intertextual symbols inspired by art and literature from the past. Like Pre-Raphaelite art, Pre-Raphaelite poetry is known for its symbolism, rhymes, and themes that bordered on the grotesque.

Pre-Raphaelite literature

Literature and art were interwoven in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. Many Pre-Raphaelite paintings are full of literary allusions and references. As an illustrator, Dante Gabriel Rossetti did collaborative projects with poets like Lord Alfred Tennyson, and his sister Christina Rosetti on their poetry collections. His illustrations display Dante’s creative interpretation of a work, rather than merely visualising the text.

The Pre-Raphaelite poets include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rosetti, and William Morris. The poetry of Dante Gabriel Rosetti continues to be the subject of scholarly investigation. Like their art, Pre-Raphaelite poetry was also criticised for its unconventionality, spirit of decadence, and evocative language. True to its name, Pre-Raphaelite poetry bore similarities to medieval sonnets and ballads, combined with sensuousness and decadence espoused by the movement.

Goblin Market (1862) by Christina Rosetti is a remarkable narrative poem of the Pre-Raphaelite era. It has garnered renewed scholarly interest due to its bold themes and allusions. Modern analysis of this poem focuses on its protofeminist elements and references to repressed feminine sexuality during the Victorian era.

Other examples of Pre-Raphaelite poetry:

  • "My Sister's Sleep,” “The Blessed Damozel,” “Jenny,” “Dante at Verona,” “A Last Confession", “On Mary's Portrait,” “Ave,” “The Bride's Prelude,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, published between 1847 and 1848
  • "The Earthly Paradise" (1868-70) and "The Defence of Guenevere" (1858) by William Morris
  • Poems and Ballads (1866) by Algernon Charles Swinburne include sensational poems like "Hymn to Proserpine" and "The Triumph of Time".

Pre-Raphaelite - Key takeaways

  • The Pre-Raphaelite movement was founded as a protest against the artistic conventions and mores of the Victorian era.
  • They opposed the British Royal Academy’s favouring of a certain style of art and narrow sense of aesthetics.
  • The Pre-Raphaelite movement was inspired by art before the Italian painter Raphael and the High Renaissance.
  • Pre-Raphaelites rejected idealistic representations in art popularised by Raphael and his successors and embraced the realism of an earlier period.
  • In literature, the poems of the Pre-Raphaelites are rich with allusions, mysticism, and suggestive language that was not considered appropriate or acceptable at the time.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pre-Raphaelite

Pre-Raphaelites were a group of young artists and writers who admired the aesthetic and artistic values of the time before the Italian painter Raphael. This is the inspiration behind the name Pre-Raphaelite. 

A Pre-Raphaelite is an artist or writer who was either part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded in 1948, or someone who was loosely associated with the movement. 

The pre-Raphaelite movement was inspired by the early Renaissance style of painting and aesthetic values. The group rebelled against the popularity of the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael and believed that art should carry utmost realism instead of idealistic portrayals. They were partly inspired by John Ruskin, the English writer and philosopher who was influential during the nineteenth century.

Pre-Raphaelite style is characterized by an emphasis on nature, reminiscent of naturalism. They gave importance to fidelity to the object of art, even at the risk of unpleasantness, which drew a lot of criticism. Pre-Raphaelites turned to nature to escape the artificiality of forms in the rising industrial age and preferred medieval aesthetics and style.

The pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood disbanded largely due to public criticism and controversy. However, their influence continued and inspired later movements in arts and literature, although Pre-Raphaelite literature does not enjoy the fame other genres and movements now enjoy in literary history. 

Final Pre-Raphaelite Quiz

Question

 Who wrote Goblin Market?

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Answer

Christina Rosetti

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Question

What are the main doctrines of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

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Answer

  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
  • most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues

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Question

What inspired the name Pre-Raphaelite?

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Answer

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded by a group of young artists in English based on their admiration for the style of art before the Italian painter Raphael.

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Question

What year was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founded?

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Answer

1848

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Question

Name the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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Answer

William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner 

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Question

Who inspired the Pre-Raphaelite movement?

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Answer

The English writer and philosopher John Ruskin

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Question

How was the Pre-Raphaelite movement received by their contemporaries?

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Answer

The Pre-Raphaelite movement met with criticism for its non-dogmatic and unconventional style in art and literature.

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Question

Famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings include:

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Answer

Ophelia (1851–1852) and Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50) by Sir John Everett Millais 

Proserpine (1874) and Lady Lilith (1866–1868) by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Our English Coasts (1852) by William Holman Hunt

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Question

What form inspired Pre-Raphaelite poetry the most?

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Answer

Medieval sonnets and ballads

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Question

What are the characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite poetry?

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Answer

Mysticism and symbolism derived from pieces of literature from the past, Christian motifs, evocative or overtly sensual language, alliteration and versification, boldness of style

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