Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary
Pre-Raphaelites / Pre-Raphaelite
Group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by painter William Holman Hunt, painter John Everett Millais and poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Formed in the autumn of 1848, the Pre-Raphaelites were a group of nineteenth-century British painters, poets, and critics who reacted against the contemporary Victorian trend towards materialism, and against the neo-classical conventions of academic art
[They] specialised in detailed studies of medieval scenes strong on elaborate symbolism and noble themes.
This high point of the Pre-Raphaelites was reached when John Millais' Ophelia was exhibited to great acclaim at the Academy Exhibition. Soon after the group dissolved.
They believed that the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art. Hence the name "Pre-Raphaelite".
The group's intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. In contrast, they wanted to return to the abundant detail, intense colours, and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian and Flemish art.
[They saw] imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art.
After 1856, Rossetti became an inspiration for the medievalising strand of the movement. His work influenced his friend William Morris, in whose firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. he became a partner, and with whose wife Jane he may have had an affair. Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones also became partners in the firm. Through Morris's company the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many interior designers and architects, arousing interest in medieval designs, as well as other crafts. This led directly to the Arts and Crafts movement headed by William Morris.
While the Pre-Raphaelites did draw stylistically on Renaissance models, the movement soon developed its own unique style and philosophy, producing art which was traditional, yet uniquely new.
The style of the Pre-Raphaelites was characterized by an interest in classical and legendary themes, fascination with architectural elements and realistic drapery, and the use of models who fit a particular style and appearance, usually with thick, curly hair and voluptuous figures. The end result was a style which was realistic, yet fantastical.
[Dante Gabriel] Rossetti was a poet as well as a painter, and in common with the other Pre-Raphaelites, his art was a fusion of artistic invention and authentic renderings of literary sources. The brotherhood drew heavily from Shakespeare, Dante, and contemporary poets such as Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson - Rossetti in particular was greatly attracted to Tennyson's reworkings of the Arthurian legends. He specialized in soulful maidens of extraordinary looks for his romantic themes, using his beautiful but neurotic wife Elizabeth Siddal as his model. Her striking face, with its long-nosed, languid expression, appears in many pictures. After Elizabeth's death, Rossetti's model was William Morris's wife Janey (a Siddal look-alike).
- Illustration above: Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Princesse Sabre - Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France
- Sir Edward Burne-Jones, La Roue de la Fortune - Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France