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Pre-Raphaelitism

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice 1871
Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice 1871. oil on canvas. 216 × 312.4 cm (85 × 122.9 in). Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement began with the establishment in 1848 of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and other artists as a protest against the conventional methods of painting then in use. The Pre-Raphaelites wished to regain the spirit of simple devotion and adherence to nature which they found in Italian religious art before Raphael.

Ruskin asserted that Pre-Raphaelitism had but one principle, that of absolute uncompromising truth in all that it did, truth attained by elaborating everything, down to the most minute detail, from nature and from nature only. This meant the rejection of all conventions designed to heighten effects artificially. Several of the group were both artists and Poets, and the effect of the cult was felt in English literature. Rossetti’s „Blessed Damozel,“ printed in 1850 in one of the four issues of The Germ, the organ of the group, is a narrative poem with pictorial qualities. Characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite poetry are: pictorial elements, symbolism, sensuousness, a tendency to metrical experimentation, attention to minute detail, and an interest in the medieval and the supernatural.

Certain critics, who deemed sensuousness the dominant characteristic of their poetry, called the Pre-Raphaelites the „fleshly school.“ The chief literary products of the movement were Rossetti’s translation of Dante, his sonnets, and his ballad-like verse; Christina Rossetti’s lyrics; and the poems of William Morris, such as The Earthly Paradise and The Defense of Guinevere. Morris’s practical application of medieval craftsmanship to business effected a change in taste in home decoration. (1)

Pre-Raphaelitism […] used to describe a dreamy, romantic, pseudo-medieval style of painting that was highly popular in Britain in the late 19th century and lingered well into the 20th. The link between the two types of Pre-Raphaelitism was the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82): he was a member of the original group, which favoured morally uplifting themes treated in a devoutly detailed style, but he subsequently changed his approach and specialized in pictures of langourous femmes fatales. His smouldering temptresses, together with the more pallid and ethereal beauties of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98), were immensely influential at the turn of the century, when they were part of the taste for Symbolism.

The painters who continued the Pre-Raphaelite tradition in the 20th century include Maxwell Armfield, Robert Anning Bell, Evelyn De Morgan, Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868–1947), John Byam Shaw, and John Melhuish Strudwick (1849–1937). After the First World War, work in this style was increasingly considered old-fashioned, and the reputations of the original Pre-Raphaelites slumped. The writings of William Gaunt and Robin Ironside, whose book Pre-Raphaelite Painters was published in 1948 to mark the centenary of the founding of the Brotherhood, ensured that the subject was not entirely forgotten, but it was not until the late 1960s that there was a major revival of interest in Pre-Raphaelitism. (2)

Source:
(1) Holman, C. Hugh (1980) A handbook to literature, 4th ed., Bobbs-Merrill Education, p. 349.
(2) Chilvers, Ian and Glaves-Smith, John (2003) A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. OUP, pp. 1575-1576.
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