5 Things To Know About ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an influential art movement that emerged in the mid-19th century in England. Founded in 1848 by a group of like-minded artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, the Brotherhood sought to challenge the dominant artistic conventions of the time. With their deep appreciation for medieval art, nature, and symbolism, the Pre-Raphaelites aimed to bring a renewed sense of truth, beauty, and emotional depth to the art world. Here are 5 key things to know about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

1. Inspiration from Medieval Art and Literature

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood drew much of its inspiration from medieval art and literature. They sought to revive the spirit of the early Renaissance painters who came before Raphael, hence their name. The movement rejected the academic art of the time, which they perceived as lacking in emotion, sincerity, and spirituality. Instead, they turned to the detailed and vibrant works of medieval painters, embracing the rich colors, intricate details, and intense spirituality found in their art.

The Brotherhood also drew inspiration from the poetry and literature of the Middle Ages. They believed that art should tell a story or convey a message, and they often looked to works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Arthurian legends for inspiration. This influence is visible in their choice of subjects, settings, and symbolism, which often centered around themes of love, chivalry, and spiritual awakening.

2. Revolt Against the Royal Academy

The formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood can be seen as a rebellion against the Royal Academy of Arts, the leading art institution of the time. The Academy’s emphasis on classical ideals and strict rules left little room for individuality and experimentation. The Brotherhood, on the other hand, sought to break free from these constraints and forge their own artistic path.

They believed in painting directly from nature and focusing on accurate observations rather than idealized interpretations. This approach meant working outdoors, often in landscapes or gardens, to capture the natural world in all its splendor. By rejecting the Academy’s norms and adopting a sincere and authentic artistic style, the Brotherhood challenged the established order and paved the way for future artistic movements.

3. Emphasis on Symbolism and Meaning

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood placed great importance on symbolism and meaning in their works. They believed that art should be more than just aesthetically pleasing; it should have a deeper emotional and intellectual significance. Each element in their paintings was carefully chosen to convey specific ideas, emotions, or messages.

Symbolism played a crucial role in their art. Objects, colors, and even specific plants or animals were used to symbolize certain concepts or evoke particular emotions. For example, the red rose often represented love, while the lily symbolized purity and the dove stood for peace. These symbols added layers of meaning and depth to the artwork, encouraging viewers to look beyond the surface and seek out hidden messages.

4. Impact on Literature and Fashion

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood extended beyond the realm of visual art. Their ideals and aesthetics had a profound impact on literature and fashion, shaping the Victorian culture of the time. Many of the Brotherhood’s members were also writers and poets and collaborated closely with other influential literary figures of the era.

Their emphasis on romanticism, spiritualism, and love found echoes in the works of poets like Christina Rossetti, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. The Pre-Raphaelites’ distinctive style also inspired fashion designers, who incorporated elements such as flowing garments, loose curls, and naturalistic motifs into their designs.

5. Enduring Legacy

The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood can still be felt in the art world today. Their commitment to sincerity, detailed craftsmanship, and storytelling continues to inspire artists across different mediums. The Pre-Raphaelite movement laid the foundation for the Art Nouveau movement and influenced artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and Gustav Klimt. The vivid colors, intricate compositions, and underlying symbolism that define the Brotherhood’s work remain enduring hallmarks of their artistic legacy.

If you’re interested in exploring more about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their art, here are some useful links:

Tate – Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
National Gallery – The Pre-Raphaelites
The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Pre-Raphaelites