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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).

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Pre-Raphaelites

Pre-Raphaelites (1848–c.1854). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, also known by the initials PRB, was a short-lived, essentially English, association of seven artists, including Holman Hunt, Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Disliking what they felt was the superficiality of 16th-cent. Italian art, they sought to recapture the direct religious sincerity of pre-Renaissance painting. The movement was very literary, painting deeply symbolic historical, poetic, or religious subjects with great attention to detail, using pure, bright colours. ‘The Pre-Raphaelites had but one idea—to present on canvas what they saw in Nature’ (Millais).

The work of the Brotherhood was, at first, well received. Only when the meaning of the initials PRB, on their paintings, became understood was there a protest, the brothers accused of blasphemy and of setting themselves up as better than Raphael. The influential art critic John Ruskin intervened on their behalf in 1851, and their reputation began to improve. Other artists adopted the brotherhood technique so that many paintings thought of as typically Pre-Raphaelite were not in fact painted by the founders. By the early 1850s the brotherhood was in decline and had dissolved by 1855. Rossetti founded a second brotherhood at Oxford with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris (c.1860s–90s).

June Cochrane

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Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) Name adopted in 1848 by a group of young English painters who joined forces to revitalize British art. The most prominent members of the PRB were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and Holman Hunt. They attracted fierce criticism for their rejection of Raphael but were helped by the support of John Ruskin. By 1853 the PRB had largely dissolved but Rossetti maintained the name, and under his influence a second wave of Pre-Raphaelite painting began in the 1860s, which lasted well into the 20th century. See also Morris

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Pre-Raphaelite

Pre-Raphaelite a member of a group of English 19th-century artists, including Holman Hunt, Millais, and D. G. Rossetti, who consciously sought to emulate the simplicity and sincerity of the work of Italian artists from before the time of Raphael. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by seven young English artists and writers as a reaction against the slick sentimentality and academic convention of much Victorian art.

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