Monday, 28 February 2011

The Formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

William Holman Hunt
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of young artists who, in 1847 joined together to resist what they considered to be ‘degenerate tendencies’ in the art of their time. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt shared a studio and through Hunt, Rossetti met Millais and helped to start what they called a " Cycle-graphic Society," for artists to contribute drawings to a portfolio which was sent round for all the rest to criticise.

Reaction to fashionable teaching

This idea was doomed from the start but led to a meeting at Millais's home, where they studied engravings of the frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa. They agreed that artists who preceded Raphael had a feeling for ‘earnest work’ which was worth more as an inspiration than the stereotyped painting fashionable in England at the time.

Formation of the Brotherhood

The brotherhood was originally a secret society founded in 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Two more artists,  James Collinson and F G Stevens were admitted, as well as a sculptor, Thomas Woolson.   The main aim of their brotherhood was to reform the state of English painting.

Connection with Raphael

The way this ‘brotherhood’ became connected to the name of Raphael is therefore less about Raphael than it is the history of European art and the teaching of the day, which is summed up in the following passage by Ruskin :

"We begin, in all probability, by telling the youth of  fifteen or sixteen that Nature is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have a principal light occupying one-seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one-third of the same ; that no two people's heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to have ideal beauty of the highest order, which ideal beauty consists partly in a Greek outline of nose, partly in proportions expressible in decimal fractions between the lips and chin ; but partly also in that degree of improvement which the youth of sixteen is to bestow upon God's work in general."

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