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Pre-Raphaelite Artists Exploratory Essay


The pre-Raphaelite was an association of English artists who included poets and painters. It was launched in 1848 by William Holman hunt, Dante Gabriel rosette together with john Everett Millais. Later the founders initiated William Michaels, James Collinson, Thomas Woolner and Fredric Stephens into the group so as to establish a seven member union.

The organization intent was to create art by denouncing what they perceived to be mechanistic concepts formerly exploited by the mannerist artists who came after Raphael and Michelangelo. This group of artists assumed that classical dynamics and stylish compositions evident in Raphael artwork were in essence ruining the scholarly teaching concerning art.

And this resulted in the emergence of Pre-Raphaelite artists. Fundamentally, Pre-Raphaelite painters were in resistance to or disregarded the manipulatins of R.A. pioneer Sir Joshua Reynolds. The Pre-Raphaelites artists opted to go back to the aspects of art that involved copious details, complex compositions of Italian and Flemish art, in addition to the use of intense colors.

From time and again the Pre-Raphaelites are ever considered as the first avant-garde association in art. However, they have been deprived of that status for they went on embracing both the aspects of history painting as well as that nimesis, or aping that nature, as the core to the objective of art.

Nevertheless, the Pre-Raphaelites did establish themselves as a transformation-movement, they established a unique name for their distinct art, and eventually published their own journal, The Germ, to endorse their views and ideas.

The movement’s early dogmas were illustrated in four concepts:

  • to have indisputable ideas to articulate
  • to learn Nature conscientiously, so as to be acquainted with how to convey them
  • to commiserate with what is undeviating and solemn and sincere in earlier art, to barring of what is conformist and self-burlesquing and attained by rote
  • most obligatory of all, to create comprehensively superior portraits and statues

These standards are plainly non-dogmatic; the Pre-Raphaelites anticipated emphasizing on the dynamics of personal responsibility (Hunt 81). This was in regard to individual artist concerning the manner one defined or determined personal concepts and ideals. The pre-Raphaelite artists were considerably swayed by Romanticism, this can be allied to the fact that they perceived liberty and responsibilities were inseparable.

However, medieval perceptions as well as cultures captivated them. They considered medieval culture to hold spiritual as well as creative inceptions that were missing in later periods. Exploring the impact of medieval on pre-Raphaelite, the artists emphasized more on dynamics that singularly clashed with specific aspects of realism. These aspects touch on the ideals of independent scrutiny of nature.

Therefore, examining the profound dynamics of the Pre-Raphaelites in regard to medieval approaches the artists in this movement had different believes in art. This can be supported by the fact that the Pre-Raphaelites perceived that art was in essence spiritual in nature. Hence, their concern revolved within the perimeters of idealism, materialism and realism.


The Victorian period was in essence a period of social changes which compelled all artists whether sculptors, painters, poets or writers to take a definite position in the immediate concern of the society. Nevertheless, the direct forms found within the Romanticism persisted dominating the English artist, the attention of most artists focused on the growth and establishment of this art.

However, from such a position, the medieval concepts which reigned during the gothic, early Christian art, insular art, Romanesque, and Byzantine period among others, were replicated by pre-Raphaelite artists differently. Therefore, looking at the manner the art historian’s paint these artists it becomes paramount to attempt to examine them critically.

The sole objective would to understand the phenomenon of producing their works in diverse media different from the popular fresco paintings. Considerably some of the artists associated with the pre-Raphaelite movement such as Hunt and Millais established a process of painting which was dissimilar from realists and gothic concepts.

Their procedures advocated for the luminosity rather unwarranted misuse of bitumen by previous English painters such as David Wilkie. The Pre-Raphaelites artists exhibited their maiden work in the wake of 1849. Some of the exhibited work entailed Millais painting Isabella (1848-1849) as well as Hunts piece Rienzi (1848-1849) (Barringer 113).

The artist allied to this movement painted or rather presented works that were unique but controversial. Unlike in earlier period when religious and social aspects formed a central theme in paintings, Pre-Raphaelites examined diverse aspects of the society in their works. Though, the artist’s medievalism was considerably attacked by those artists who viewed themselves as conservatives.

The Pre-Raphaelites continued creating art work devoted to details. Despite the challenges which the Pre-Raphaelites encountered they did shed unrivalled light in regard to the dynamics of English art. Considering that conception that the medieval English society valued religious ideals, the Pre-Raphaelites went against these restrictions to greater engagements.

It is from their devotion to nature, color and artistic compositions that made them to be a force within the annals of art history. In essence, the pre-Raphaelite artists reacted against what art historians perceive to be unimaginative as well as artificial antique paintings created by the royal academy. The artists were compactly inspired and influenced by 15th century Italian art.

Though this movement did not last long, her followers had instrumental impact on British art. This can be testified by the artist’s profound interior designs as well as decorative arts which they created. The Pre-Raphaelites created and produced extremely convincing as well as significant paintings.

Their work which entailed religious including medieval features emulated the extreme and utmost religious feelings as well as the naïve 15th century paintings of Florentine and Sienese. Hence, the style adopted by such pre-Raphaelite painters as Hunt and Millais developed art work featuring sharp as well as dazzling lighting, with a clear ambiance, and an almost photographic replica of fine details.

Equally, the artists allied to this period or movement introduced articulate and private symbolism into their religious subjects along the medieval themes. All in all, John Ruskin, who was a popular writer and a pundit championed for the cause of the pre-Raphaelite artists. In essence, he played a critical role in reinforcing the movement’s scope of moral responsibilities as well as social commitment. Unlike the earlier artworks, the pre-Raphaelite art stood out as distinct and fresh due to its innovativeness.

Pre-Raphaelites artists

The movement is credited with some of the most outstanding artists. Some of the pre-Raphaelite artists left an indelible mark in the historic archives. Therefore, it can be asserted that pre-Raphaelite era was in essence phenomenal. Some of the big names include;

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti was a popular figure and an established English poet, painter, translator and illustrator. With his close allies they founded the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood in the wake of 1848. As a painter, his works were symbolically characterized by their unique sensuality as well as their strong medieval revivalism.

More so, his paintings influenced to a great deal the European symbolist in addition to the fact that he was a key precursor of the famed aesthetic movement. Regarding his poetry, John Keats is said to have influenced him profoundly. This is evident in his earlier writings. Generally, his foremost paintings which were in oil expose the realist dynamics of the primary pre-Raphaelite movement.

Girlhood of Mary Virgin as well as Ecce Ancilla Domini reflects his style and taste in regard to painting. In essence, he had a unique technique that exploited painting in oils while using water-based color brushes, as lightly as in water-based color, also on canvas which he treated with white to attain a smooth surface.

This guaranteed that every tint remained transparent. Naturally, he painted from an aesthetic purpose. In his paintings he injected the scope of incorporating symbolic as well as mythological aspects than touch on the realistic images. According to the available literature on art Rossetti is said to have developed his own painting technique.

The technique involved using water colors which formulated to make thick pigments using gum. The purpose of this process was to generate a rich effect that was resembled the medieval illuminations. Equally, he established a new drawing method in pen plus ink. One of his published works was “The Maids of Elfen-Mere” (1855), among others.

In spite of his dreams concerning Arthurian anecdote in addition to medieval blueprint greatly influenced such painters as William Morris as well as Edward Burne-Jones. As is with other pre-Raphaelite painters, he encountered diverse critical hostilities for his primary paintings. Though, he worked extremely slowly this helped him in picking the most delicate details (Andres 200).

Ruskin a celebrated art pundit recognized his dilemma and seamlessly encouraged him to attempt finishing at least a single painting at a time. However, Rossetti took most of his time and concentration creating and producing both drawings and poems. With the time the use of water colors developed to be his favorite medium.

In his search for a definite approach to art he moved further and further away from the dynamics of pre-Raphaelite modernism. And this resulted in him discarding his contemporary themes altogether. Subsequently he concentrated on antique stories and legends. As a painter his major themes revolved around women, who, he assumed, held the secrecy of continuation within themselves.

He viewed women as magical entities, living in mysticism and sensuality and this made him to examine the themes regarding feminine virtue, splendor, and passion leading him to limit himself to women subjects. After a period of attempting doing illustrations with woodcuts to substantial success, he reverted back to exploring the dynamism of Arthurian themes and subjects.

He eked a negligible living by merchandising small, watercolor jewels to a definite group of collectors. He also did paint me a number of watercolors which he sold to William Morris. However, the characteristics and uniqueness of Arthurian/medieval romance continued to capture his imagination. And this resulted in him being commissioned to embellish the Oxford Union Building in the wake of 1857.

Holman Hunt

In personality Holman Hunt was entirely dissimilar from his partners. Naturally, he is mostly depicted as an arrogant and unfriendly. He was a son to a warehouse director or manager in Cheapside, London. Hunt spent a great deal in his formative years reading the bible. At the age of 12 he was earning as a clerk.

He dreamed of being an artist, though he did not have the natural gift. However, he was full of imagination as well as visions which were complimented by very rare attributes at a time when the society was moving towards the post-industrial revolution. He managed to convince his parents to allow him to attend Royal Academy where he anticipated pursuing his dream of being a painter.

At the college he was confused by the traditional British art, in it he found nothing imaginative to admire. But after reading John Ruskin’s volume on Modern Painters he was highly impressed by the author’s argument. The argument captured young Hunt imagination that had a profound spiritual background. The idea of reviving the dynamism of symbolic realism into the contemporary art, in the pursuit of his dream he met Millais, a fellow scholar at Royal Academy of Arts.

Gradually, they developed a desire to participate in 1848 Royal Academy exhibition. The foremost painting of Hunt was adopted from the theme of a poem The Eve of St Agnes which was composed by a little known poet Keats. All in all, Hunt is among the founding associates of the pre-Raphaelite movement. This was a group of artists who were extremely opposed to the odd, academic approach of painting advocated by Royal Art Academy.

Just as is with such painters as Rossetti as well as John Everett Millais, his work revolved within the axis of mythology, biblical narratives, and medieval legends. His paintings are commonly unforgettable, romantic, luminous and equally flowing with unique symbolism and realism. As is illustrated by his biographer Schell Bacon he began to be an artist while working in a calico printer in Manchester.

As the years progressed he rejected the concepts of crass materialism which had become the epitome of Victorian society. However, he was later forced to reconnect with his lost dynamics of spirituality of Gothic, Early-Renaissance and Medieval imagery. Eventually, he was attracted by the symbolic realism as well as mysticism exposed in Sassattas works.

In his painting career he sought to achieve or attain both the moral and spiritual aspects of previous periods. In the dawn of 1850 he finished his classic paint work A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids- commonly referred as The Missionary. This painting was presented in the same show as Millais piece Christ in the House of His Parents.

However, one of the most notable works he painted was The Hireling Shepherd which became one of the most recognized pre-Raphaelite paintings. Also he painted a companion image that symbolized and narrated his transformation to religion. And this happened to be his turning point in his private life touching on his artistic as well as his spiritual life.

His paintings illustrate him to be an individual who was etched in spirituality. The assumption is well supported by the classic painting titled The Light of the World. However, to attain his imagination of realism he is said to have opted to do his paintings at night under the lamp light. Hence, his works carries diverse and unique symbolism.

More so, he established his personal artistic language to convey his message through the technique he referred as “symbolic realism”. According to established studies his later paintings were done as a measure to establish and bring together the religious art in the wake of post industrial audience.

However, for 1852 exhibition Hunt painted the worldly version of his earlier religious paintings, The Awakening Conscience.

Pre-Raphaelites paintings

The pre-Raphaelite painters as well as those painters who were allied to them produced a considerable amount of classic pieces. Both in secular and religious context these paintings had a considerable impact on the British society. It should be noted that this movement played a critical role in shaping and opening a novel window for the artists to explore other dynamics of paintings which went against the academic assumptions advocated by the Royal Academy of Arts.

As is with the diverse poets and archictures of the period, Pre-Raphaelites artists explored the previous medieval periods in their paintings. Some of the major pre-Raphaelite paintings touched in extreme religious subjects as is with the paintings of Holman Hunt. However, pre-Raphaelite paintings did not have a definite principle. Most of them dwelt on Italian art while some were done with the tone of gothic and earl-Christian perceptions. Some of these pre-Raphaelite paintings were:

John Everett Millais

Among the most notable pre-Raphaelite paintings, Millais painting Isabella stands as one of the foremost oil painting. The painting is developed with an elaborate foreshadowing using fine stroke and reflective bright colors. The theme of this painting was borrowed from Keats poem, The Pot of Basil; he was a little known poet who lived in early 1818.

The painting exposes how the painter incorporated complex strokes with unique profiles together with flat perspectives. This technique allowed the painter to capture the details. Therefore, the significance of the painting touches on the unique consideration of women in the society. The painting touches on a happening from the poem that depicts the relationship involving Isabella, and a certain fellow named as Lorenzo (Daly 107).

Isabella is depicted clad in grey and is being given a blood orange by her doomed lover Lorenzo. The orange is symbolic, it illustrates that someone neck has been beheaded. The paintings composition as well as meaning is etched among the painters deliberate and shagged perspective.

Examining the aspects of pre-Raphaelite concepts, the painter purposely purges chiaroscuro in addition to inflating the concentration of juxtaposed hues and tones as is testified in the plain and flat dark tunic which is elaborately set against the sharply formulated white clothing. The base on of the chair Isabella is sited is contains the letters (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood).

William Holman Hunt

This painting is perhaps one of the few celebrated paintings depicting Christ. The period it was painted England was facing religious revival. According to diverse historical scholars Hunt was inspired by a biblical verse Revelation 3:20. Hence, an image of Christ holding a lantern seamlessly haunted him. To illustrate his vision he employed the use of materials having profound significance and meaning.

Hence, he decorated an orchard standing for a sleeping soul. More so, the orchard stood for available sustenance needed by the soul. Also, full-grown apples for harvest are equally depicted in the downside of the painting. While a bat in the darkness symbolizes ignorance. For the purpose of expressing Christ’s face, the painter opted for a woman.

This is commonly allied to the fact that woman treasures gravity, energy and attractiveness of expression (Maas 141). Symbolically, for Christ figure he employed the male figure. This painting provides a critical insight into the manner the early English society perceived religion.

As a member of pre-Raphaelite movement, paying attention to details provided him with an opportunity to paint a sensational image. It ought to be noted that the pre-Raphaelite painters were inspired by religion and nature. With the combination of such periods as Gothic, Medieval and Early-Christian painting concepts, this painting acquires a definite place in both religious and secular painting community.

The painting though unique and depicting spiritual significance faced a stiff challenge from the religious circles. However, John Ruskin a respected art critic explained the significance of the painting and the value it held in regard to the sacred history.

The first impressions of the painting were published in the wake of 1858.this permitted the greater public to have a close look at it. This happened across Europe and America subsequently due to the success of this painting, hunt developed a smaller version by 1865. However, the primary painting was donated to Keble College.

Examining this piece of art from the pre-Raphaelite perspective it offers an incredible insight into the way this movement impact on the English art. Despite the medieval aspects which were exported to the painting, the painter proved that imagination played a central role in as far as painting was concerned

Works cited

Andres, Sophia.The Pre-Raphaelite Art of the Victorian.NY: Ohio State University, 2004.

Barringer, Tim. Reading the Pre-Raphaelites. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Daly, Gay. Pre-Raphaelites in Love. New York: Ticknor, 2002.

Hunt, Hunt. Pre-Raphaelitism. London: Macmillan; 1999.

Maas, Jeremy. Holman Hunt and the Light of the World. NY: Ashgate, 2000

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