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The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists, poets, and critics who, during late Victorian England, admired and emulated late Medieval or Proto-Renaissance art. This type of art dates back to a time prior to the appearance of artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo. The original and most famous members of the Pre-Raphaelites were John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt. The Pre-Raphaelites sought a return to bright, rich colors and attention to detail, as well as a stress in a spiritual response to art and the importance of observing nature; all classic examples of late Medieval art.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was formed in 1848 at the house of John Millais' parents in London. Hunt and Millais both attended the Royal Academy of Arts and had previously belonged to the same sketching club, called the Cyclographic club. Rossetti had met Hunt after seeing his painting "The Eve of St. Agnes," based on the Keats poem of the same name. The connection between poetry and art appealed to Rossetti, he being a poet and a painter. After Millais, Hunt, and Rossetti formed the Pre-Raphaelites, four other members joined by the end of the year: Rossetti's brother William Michael, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner.
The Pre-Raphaelites held their first painting exhibition in 1849. All artists signed their works with their name, followed by PRB. They also published a literary magazine, The Germ, between January and April of 1850, but it was not very popular. The Pre-Raphaelites disbanded shortly after an 1850 exhibition of Millais' Christ in the House of His Parents elicited a controversial response from viewers and critics, many of whom objected to the Medieval portrayal of the Holy Family. Charles Dickens was one of the painting's most outspoken critics, while John Ruskin was one of the few to praise Pre-Raphaelite art.
A fission within the Pre-Raphaelites also led to the end of the Brotherhood. The ideals of Medievalism and Realism began to diverge, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his followers outside of the Brotherhood favoring the former, and Hunt and Millais striving for the latter, yet still with a focus on idealism and purity in art. Rossetti's followers in this split included Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, who was later to found the Arts and Crafts movement in design. Though short-lived, the Pre-Raphaelites had significant influence on the world of art, acting as a precursor to the Symbolist movement and inspiring later artistic movements.
Does anybody else have a favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting?
My favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting is "The Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse. The painting style is highly realistic and yet "off" somehow, like there's an otherworldly quality to it that speaks more to fantasy than anything else. It is very faithful to the spirit of the original Tennyson poem which is also retro-Arthurian.
A lot of the Pre-Raphaelites' paintings have that dreamlike quality to me that makes it oddly timeless despite the medieval setting. The typical Pre-Raphaelite woman in these paintings doesn't really look much different from one today, fashion-wise, if you go for the peasant blouse look.
I remember when the poster fair would come to our university and there would be many Pre-Raphaelite images for sale among them - it seems to be very popular among females who like depictions of chivalry or medieval fantasy with the proverbial "knights in shining armor" and fair maidens. I can understand why the Pre-Raphaelite artists don't get as much critical respect as other painters of the era, but they must have done something right if their work is still popular a century and a half later.
Can anybody think of another artistic movement in the past that was dismissed in its day, but has had a resurgence in modern times?
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