Pre-Raphaelites – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Theory Glossary

I. What is Pre-Raphaelites?

The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of English artists and writers who formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. They aimed to reform art by rejecting the academic standards of the Royal Academy and returning to the styles and techniques of art before the High Renaissance.

The Pre-Raphaelites were known for their detailed and colorful paintings, inspired by medieval and early Renaissance art. They often depicted themes from literature, mythology, and nature, and their work was characterized by intricate detail, vibrant colors, and a focus on emotional and spiritual themes.

II. History of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by a group of young artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. They were inspired by the writings of art critic John Ruskin, who advocated for a return to the simplicity and sincerity of early Italian art.

The Brotherhood’s first exhibition in 1849 was met with mixed reviews, but they continued to produce work that challenged the conventions of the art world. Over time, the group expanded to include other artists and writers who shared their ideals, and their influence spread throughout the Victorian era.

III. Key Characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite Art

Pre-Raphaelite art is characterized by its attention to detail, vibrant colors, and use of symbolism. The artists often depicted scenes from literature, mythology, and history, and their work was known for its emotional intensity and spiritual depth.

One of the key characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite art is the use of symbolism and allegory to convey deeper meanings. The artists often included hidden messages or references in their paintings, inviting viewers to interpret the work on multiple levels.

IV. Influential Pre-Raphaelite Artists

Some of the most influential Pre-Raphaelite artists include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Rossetti was known for his lush and sensual paintings, often inspired by medieval and Arthurian themes.

Hunt’s work focused on religious and moral themes, and he was known for his meticulous attention to detail. Millais, on the other hand, was celebrated for his naturalistic style and ability to capture the beauty of the natural world.

V. Impact and Legacy of the Pre-Raphaelites

The Pre-Raphaelites had a significant impact on the art world of their time and beyond. Their rejection of academic conventions and emphasis on emotional and spiritual themes paved the way for the Symbolist and Aesthetic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Their influence can be seen in the work of later artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Gustav Klimt, and the Arts and Crafts movement. The Pre-Raphaelites’ legacy continues to inspire artists and art lovers around the world to this day.

VI. Criticisms of Pre-Raphaelite Art

Despite their popularity and influence, the Pre-Raphaelites were not without their critics. Some contemporary art critics dismissed their work as overly sentimental or lacking in technical skill, while others criticized their focus on idealized beauty and romanticized themes.

Critics also pointed to the Pre-Raphaelites’ limited subject matter and tendency to rely on literary sources for inspiration. However, the artists themselves defended their work as a sincere and heartfelt response to the industrialization and materialism of their time, and their legacy continues to be celebrated by art historians and enthusiasts alike.