The Critical Reception of Pre-Raphaelitism in Italy, 1878-1910

By Pieri, Giuliana | The Modern Language Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview

The Critical Reception of Pre-Raphaelitism in Italy, 1878-1910


Pieri, Giuliana, The Modern Language Review


This study looks at the critical response to Pre-Raphaelitism in Italy between the late 1870s and 1910. Information on Pre-Raphaelitism arrived in Italy in two phases: firstly, in the 1880s, when discussion was largely literary and focused on D. G. Rossetti; secondly, in the early 1890s, when it extended to the Fine Arts and culminated in the first Venetian Biennale in 1895. This later phase of interest in the English movement influenced a whole generation of Italian nineteenth-century artists and stimulated a debate on the existence of Italian Pre-Raphaelitism.

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Much has been written on the foreign influences on British art and especially on the fascination of British and Pre-Raphaelite artists with Italy. However, less is known about the reception of British art abroad and its impact on the art and aesthetics of other countries. The links between Pre-Raphaelite and continental art, and the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism on the wider European context, have not been widely recognized. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the later movement which stemmed from it, which we label as Pre-Raphaelitism, have been viewed as an isolated English phenomenon, instead of as part of the tradition of nineteenth-century European art. In their reassessment of the movement, Susan Casteras and Alicia Craig Faxon have attempted to correct the balance by placing Pre-Raphaelitism in its historical European context. (1) However, the aim of their book followed a pattern already established by twentieth-century scholars, namely to focus on the link between English and French art, which in this case is extended to include Belgian art. (2) Similarly, the 1997 exhibition at the London Tate Gallery on Pre-Raphaelite art in the age of Symbolism, though widening the picture of the influence of the English movement abroad to include the work of Swiss Symbolist artists, was still biased towards the French art world. (3) It displayed only one painting by the Italian Divisionist Gaetano Previati and made only a passing reference to the impact of Pre-Raphaelite art in Italy. This is unsatisfactory since, as will become apparent below, in the 1880s and 1890s there was a pronounced interest in Pre-Raphaelitism among Italian artists and writers on art and literature which left a marked impact on their own work.

If we turn from Anglo-Saxon to Italian twentieth-century studies, we find a similar gap in the literature. Analyses of the impact of Pre-Raphaelite and English art on Italy are also very limited and the question of the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism has been only partially addressed in various articles on Gabriele D'Annunzio and his interest in the Pre-Raphaelites, although they lacked the broader scope of a study of the influence of the movement on Italian writers and artists. (4) Italian art historians since the early 1960s have worked on the late nineteenth century and have carried out extensive research on the Macchiaioli painters and the Divisionists. Rossana Bossaglia, in her fundamental study of Italian Art Nouveau, has highlighted the interest of Italian artists in Pre-Raphaelite art and the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement. (5) Gianna Piantoni focused her attention on the Roman art world and pointed to the influence of English Pre-Raphaelitism here. (6) More recently, Anna Maria Damigella, in her study of Italian Symbolism, discussed the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism in Rome and northern Italy and its relevance in the theoretical framework of the Italian Symbolists. (7) So far, however, there has been no attempt to analyse the relationship of English Pre-Raphaelitism with Italian art in any systematic way.

This paper is the first comprehensive study of the essays and reviews published in Italy on English Pre-Raphaelite artists of the first and second generation and their successors. It focuses on the period 1878-1910, 1878 being the year when the first article on contemporary English painting appeared in Italy, and 1910 the year of Marinetti's Futurist speech in London against Ruskin, after which the interest of Italian artists and critics was captured by the avant-garde. …

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