Pre-Raphaelites

Pre-Raphaelites (prē´-răf´ēəlīts´), brotherhood of English painters and poets formed in 1848 in protest against what they saw as the low standards and decadence of British art. The principal founders were D. G. Rossetti, W. Holman Hunt, and John Millais, at the time students at the Royal Academy of Art. In poetry as well as painting, the Pre-Raphaelites turned away from the growing materialism of industrialized England. They sought refuge, through literary symbolism and imagery, in the beauty and comparative simplicity of the medieval world. In the works of the Italian painters prior to Raphael, they found a happy innocence of style that they tried to imitate. Influenced by the Nazarenes, a similar group of German painters founded in Rome in 1810, and also inspired by England's Gothic revival, the Pre-Raphaelites declared themselves devotees of nature and truth. In the early 1850s their works were violently criticized, first by Charles Dickens, as being vulgar and ugly. They were defended by John Ruskin and attracted numerous followers, among whom were Edward Burne-Jones, G. F. Watts, and William Morris, but the group disbanded after 1853 and the movement died out before the end of the century. The paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites are characteristically nostalgic in tone, bright in color, and emotionally overwrought. Despite their supposed predilection for simplicity, they were highly meticulous in detail, often extremely patterned, and mannered in style. Eventually their painting became as artificial as the historical works they had organized to protest. There is a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite works at the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Del.

See J. D. Hunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination (1969); J. Nicoll, The Pre-Raphaelites (1970); L. Stevenson, The Pre-Raphaelite Poets (1972); J. Sambrook, ed., Pre-Raphaelitism (1976); T. Hilton, Pre-Raphaelites (1985); J. Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Women (1988); A. Smith et al., ed., Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848 to 1900 (museum catalog, 2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Pre-Raphaelite Body: Fear and Desire in Painting, Poetry, and Criticism
J. B. Bullen.
Clarendon Press, 1998
Pre-Raphaelite Painters
Robin Ironside; John Gere.
Phaidon Press, 1948
The Pre-Raphaelite Poets
Lionel Stevenson.
University of North Carolina Press, 1972
The Pre-Raphaelites
Boos, Florence S.
Victorian Poetry, Vol. 41, No. 3, Fall 2003
The Columbia History of British Poetry
Carl Woodring; James Shapiro.
Columbia University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Pre-Raphaelite Poetry" begins on p. 478
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists
Ian Chilvers.
Oxford University Press, 1996 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" begins on p. 422
Victorian People and Ideas
Richard D. Altick.
W.W. Norton, 1973
Librarian’s tip: "The Pre-Raphaelites" begins on p. 288
Decadence and the 1890s
Ian Fletcher.
Holmes & Meier, 1980
Librarian’s tip: "The Germ (1850)" begins on p. 175
A Companion to the Victorian Novel
William Baker; Kenneth Womack.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Wilkie Collins's Challenges to Pre-Raphaelite Gender Constructs" begins on p. 365
The Economics of Taste: The Rise and Fall of Picture Prices, 1760-1960
Gerald Reitlinger.
Barrie and Rockliff, 1961
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Six "The Golden Age of the Living Painter 1860-1914"
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