PRB, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ~ Meaning

Header Painting: Proserpine (Detail)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874
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Oil on canvas
125.1 cm × 61 cm (49.3 in × 24 in)
Tate Britain, London
© Estate of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The painting that is the colussus of the gloriously coloured history of the Pre Raphaelite Botherhood. The beauty is there for all to behold, beauty that is timeless. It could have been painted 500 years ago or yesterday but the result of witnessing it is the same.


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PRB, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ~ What Was It?

PRB, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood   The mysterious initials first appeared following Rossetti's signature on his Girlhood of Mary Virgin exhibited in 1849. They were the outcome of talks between Hunt and Millais in 1848, although the choice of the expression 'Pre-Raphaelite' was largely fortuitous. It had already been said of the Nazarener that they sought to emulate the painters earlier than Raphael, and this was more or less the idea of the original Brotherhood (Hunt, Millais, Rossetti and his brother William, Collinson, Woolner the sculptor, and Stephens) - they knew very little about Italian painting earlier than Raphael, but they did know that they thought Raphael himself over-praised and they did not like Bolognese and Roman 17th-century painting, which they thought insincere.

From the first the movement was very literary (a periodical called The Germ ran for four numbers) and the painters insisted on the importance of a serious subject and on a highly elaborated symbolism and freshly thought-out iconography. The technical means, such as bright colour, extreme detail, study of outdoor motives on the spot, and the famous method of working into a wet white ground - all these were no more than means, although they had great influence on later painters who had no connection with the movement, such as Ford Madox Brown.

In 1850 Rossetti revealed the meaning of the initials and at once a great storm broke; the principal accusations being that they set themselves up as better than Raphael, that they were secret Romanists (i.e. linked with the Oxford Movement), and that they were blasphemers. This last point was made - in an exceptionally savage and unperceptive attack - by Dickens, the victim being Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents, better known as The Carpenter's Shop (RA 1850: London, Tate). He described the picture as showing 'the interior of a carpenter's shop. In the foreground ... is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering red-headed boy in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand . . . playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out... as a Monster in the vilest cabaret in France or the lowest gin-shop in England.'

After further attacks in 1851, Ruskin came to their defence, commending them for copying nature, not the Quattrocento, and saying that they were 'laying in our England the foundations of a school of art nobler than the world has seen for three hundred years'. Such was Ruskin's reputation that their success was assured: Millais's Ophelia (1851-2: Tate) in the next Academy exhibition was a great success, but shortly after this the group, which had never had any avowed theoretical basis, dissolved: Millais to become the typical successful RA and PR A, Rossetti to found a sort of second Brotherhood at Oxford with Morris and Burne-Jones, and Hunt alone, working in Palestine on religious pictures, to maintain the original ideas. Collinson soon drifted away, leaving as his best memorial The Empty Purse (1857: Tate, also called For Sale), Woolner emigrated to Australia, providing the inspiration for Brown's The Last of England, and various other artists Hughes (April Love) and Martineau (The Last Day in the Old Home - a tract on the evils of drink and gambling) - adopted their ideas for the production of anecdotal-cum-genre pictures.

From the mid-1850s they were well supported by the new middle-class patrons who appreciated their every-picture-tells-a-story type of art, and their attention to detail,- which fitted in with the Victorian keenness on visible value-for-money.

There are good collections of their works in Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford and London (Tate).

Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

Further Reading: Victorian Painting. Book, 2003. Probaly the most beautifully presented book on art I have ever seen. A treasure, a marvel, a triumph of printed matter. Everyone who loves Victorian painting should have a copy - it is that good.

Pre-Raphaelites ~ Who Were They? II

Sometimes considered the first avant-garde art movement, the Pre-Raphaelites rejected their era’s dominant artistic theories for what they saw as a more spiritual, naturalistic and intensely personal approach. Fascinated by the romantic aspects of medieval culture and the vivid, jewel-like colors of Quattrocento art, the movement abhored the Classical poses and composition of Raphael and those influenced by him—hence the group’s name—and the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the original Pre-Raphaelites were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form a seven-member "brotherhood". Its influence on many later British artists was extensive, and Rossetti’s work is now seen as a precursor of the wider European Symbolist movement.

Further Reading: Pre-Raphaelites (Taschen Basic Genre Series)

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ~ Who Were They? III

Though always controversial in art circles, the Pre-Raphaelites have also always been extremely popular with museum goers...a century and a half later, Pre-Raphaelite art retains its power to fascinate, haunt, and often shock its viewers.

Calling themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt produced a statement of ideas that revolutionized art practice in Victorian England. Critical of the Royal Academy's formulaic works, these painters believed that painting had been misdirected since Raphael. They and the artists who joined with them, including William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, and Frederick George Stephens, created bright works representing nature and literary themes in fresh detail and color. Considered heretical by many and frequently admonished for a lack of grace in composition the group disbanded after only a few years. Yet its artists and ideals remained influential; its works, greatly admired.

Source: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites


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