Pre-Raphaelism. From the historical point of view, pre-Raphaelism, means romanticism in the development of English art, in which a group of artists, dominated by sentiment, search for medieval affairs, because in the Atmosphere of mysticism and ecstasy they find the satisfaction of their aspirations, translating their soul movements into the expression of the faces of their figures and the poetic drawing of their lines.


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  • 1 Emergence
  • 2 Art
  • 3 Objectives
  • 4 Sources


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an association of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848 in London by John Everett Millais ( 1829 – 1886 ), Dante Gabriel Rossetti ( 1820 – 1882 ) and William Holman Hunt ( 1827 – 1910 ).

Rossetti had met Hunt after being impressed by his painting Saint Agnes ‘Eve, based on Keats’ poem. Rossetti, also a poet, was interested in developing the links between romantic poetry and art.

In the fall of the same year, four other members were added to the Brotherhood: William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Woolner , James Collinson, and Frederic George Stephens . Ford Madox Brown did not come to join the Brotherhood, but always remained very close to it.

The Brotherhood lasted as a group consisting of just five years, but its influence was felt in English painting until well into the 20th century . Already in the first quarter of a century, the English school had seen another group form, the Poetic Brotherhood, grouped around the figure of William Blake, who exerted his influence on Etty, Linnel, Richmond, Palmer and Calvert, a group in the that the legendary spirit and taste of Italianism that later characterized the Pre-Raphaelites are already evident.

The starting point of Pre-Raphaelism is a reaction against the realistic sense. In England the realistic reaction is characterized by a kind of abrupt change, of sudden and puzzled appearance, without previous preparations.

Furthermore, this realistic movement was devoted to reproduce the image of contemporary life, with few exceptions, to transport the work of both ancient and modern poets.

Defender and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites was Ruskin, who affirmed that “Pre-Raphaelism has only one principle: the most absolute truth, the most intransigent in all his works; and he obtains it by working from the natural and only the natural, down to the most insignificant detail Every background of pre-Arrafelista landscape is painted in the open air until the last brush stroke, according to a real landscape.

Every accessory, no matter how small, is painted the same way. And one of the main reasons that some artists have attacked this school is the great care and the enormous work that such a method demands of those who adopt it, in comparison to the loose and imperfect style currently in use. ”

On the other hand, the reform was not limited to art and aimed above all at poetry. For Taine, what they long to represent by drawing, color and the written word are “the impressions of the moral person, the silent dialogue of the soul and of nature, the deaf resonance of a deep self filled with vibrating strings of great Intimate harp that responds to all external contacts.

For them, this powerful self is the main character in the world … “According to A. Chevrillón, for the Pre-Arraelites” what is essential is the halo of dreams, of feeling, of ideas, of imagination, the mysterious spiritual procession around the fact of primitive consciousness; because essentially and independently of the man who contemplates, it corresponds to the object, and is linked to its appearance as the meaning of a word to the shape of the letters that compose it. This meaning and not this form constitutes being, reality. ”

To spread these ideas, the Pre-Raphaelites founded a magazine, The Germ, which only had four issues.


In a First Period, Pre-Raphaelism, had wanted to found a national art based on a careful study of nature supported by a background of legends and popular traditions.

In his next phase he developed a concern for more social. This movement is due to the impulse that determined the renewal of ornamentation and that formed what has been called modern style. They were a great force in terms of the content of the art.


The goals of the Brotherhood were summarized in four statements:

  1. Express authentic and sincere ideas.
  2. Carefully study Nature, to learn to express these ideas.
  3. Select in the art of past times the direct, serious and sincere, discarding all the conventional, self-congratulatory and learned by heart.
  4. Seek perfection in the creation of paintings and sculptures.

These principles did not have a dogmatic character, since the Pre-Raphaelites believed in the personal freedom of artists to choose their own ideas and painting techniques. Under the influence of Romanticism, they thought that freedom and responsibility were inseparable concepts in art.

However, they were particularly fascinated by the Middle Ages , which entailed for them a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in later times. This emphasis on the medieval was in practice a departure from realism, which advocated an independent observation of nature.

In its first moments, the pre-Raphaelites believed that medievalism and realism were compatible, but in later years the movement ended up splitting in two directions. The realistic current was spearheaded by Hunt and Millais, while medievalism was represented by Rossetti and his followers Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris . The break was never absolute, since both factions believed in the spiritual essence of art, thus opposing their idealism to the realistic materialism associated with Courbet and impressionism.

Pre-Raphaelite painting was first shown to the public in 1849. The paintings Isabella ( 1848 – 1849 ) by Millais and Rienzi (1848-1849) by Hunt were exhibited at the Royal Academy, and The Youth of the Virgin Mary by Rossetti at the Hyde Park Corner free exhibition. As agreed, all the members of the brotherhood added, after their signature, the initials PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood).

Between January and April 1850 the group published a literary magazine, called The Germ. William Michael Rossetti was the editor of the magazine, which contained poems by brothers Rossetti, Woolner, and Collinson, along with art and literature essays signed by sympathizers of the brotherhood, such as Coventry Patmore. As its short life indicates, the magazine was not very successful.

The group found an important supporter of critic John Ruskin, who praised his dedication to nature observation and his rejection of conventional composition methods. Later, Ruskin would continue to support the Pre-Raphaelites, both financially and through his writings.

Hunt and Millais avoided after 1850 the direct imitation of medieval art, interested in delving into the realistic and scientific aspects of the pre-Raphaelite movement.

However, Hunt continued to highlight the spiritual significance of art and, trying to reconcile religion and science, he carefully documented his biblical-themed paintings with trips to Egypt and Palestine.

Rather, Millais abandoned pre-Raphaelite postulates after 1860 , and paradoxically returned to a more academic painting, which was harshly condemned by William Morris and other artists.

The influence of Pre-Raphaelism went beyond the limits of English painting; Dante Gabriel Rossetti came to be considered a forerunner of European symbolism.

However, the artistic ideals of the 20th century , contrary to the pre-Raphaelite fixation for portraying objects with almost photographic precision, caused the interest in his painting to decline, and it was only in the 1970s that he began to pay attention.

According to some critics, Pre-Raphaelism could be considered the first avant-garde movement. Some features of the group (the breakthrough intention, its programmatic nature, the adoption of a new name for its art or the publication of a magazine, The Germ, as an organ of promotion of the movement) do seem to anticipate what will later become commonplace in the avant-garde. ; however, their questioning of tradition is much less radical than that of the avant-garde, and does not affect the essential: mimesis, or imitation of nature, remains for them the foundation of art.


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