Subject: English Poetry Siglos XIX y XX             Group: A

Student’s name: Cuñat Manzanera, Sandra

Title of the Paper: Pre- Raphaelitism and Symbolic Realism

Topic: Pre-Raphaelitism, the movement of the Victorian Era and Symbolic realism.


Introduction to Pre-Raphaelitism

Pre-Raphaelitism is a movement of the Victgorian Era in which Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took place. It took place in the middle nineteenth century, during the Victorian Era. The term Pre-Raphaelitism originated in relation with Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Who are the Pre-Raphaelites?

The Pre-Raphaelites are a group of painters and writers that formed part of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. These artists share characteristics in painting as well as in literature. Their art is influenced by literature. The Pre-Raphaelites have been considered the first avant-garde movement in art, though they have also been denied that status, because they continued to accept both the concepts of history painting and of mimesis, or imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. However, the Pre-Raphaelites undoubtedly defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, The Germ, to promote their ideas. Their debates were recorded in the Pre-Raphaelite Journal.

Beginnings of the Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite brothehood was formed in the middle of the 19th century, in  1848. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed by many authors, but the ones that founded it were Holman Hunt, John Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Thomas Woolner and F.G. Stephens.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in John Millais's parents' house on Gower Street, London in 1848. At the initial meeting John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt were present. Hunt and Millais were students at the Royal Academy of Arts. They had previously met in another loose association, a sketching society called the Cyclographic club. Rossetti was a pupil of Ford Madox Brown. He had met Hunt after seeing Hunt's painting The Eve of St Agnes, based on Keats' poem. As an aspiring poet, Rossetti wished to develop the links between Romantic poetry and art. By autumn four more members had also joined to form a seven-strong Brotherhood. These were William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's brother), Thomas Woolner, James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens. Ford Madox Brown was invited to join, but preferred to remain independent. He nevertheless remained close to the group. Some other young painters and sculptors were also close associates, including Charles Allston Collins, Thomas Tupper and Alexander Munro. They kept the existence of the Brotherhood secret from members of the Royal Academy.

Intention of the Brotherhood

These authors formed this brotherhood to revitalize the arts, they wanted to create an art suitable  for the modern age by:

1.     Testing and defying all conventions of art; for example, if the Royal Academy schools taught art students to compose paintings with (a) pyramidal groupings of figures, (b) one major source of light at one side matched by a lesser one on the opposite, and (c) an emphasis on rich shadow and tone at the expense of color, the PRB with brilliant perversity painted bright-colored, evenly lit pictures that appeared almost flat.

2.     The PRB also emphasized precise, almost photographic representation of even humble objects, particularly those in the immediate foreground (which were traditionally left blurred or in shade) --thus violating conventional views of both proper style and subject.

3.     Following Ruskin, they attempted to transform the resultant hard-edge realism (created by 1 and 2) by combining it with typological symbolism. At their most successful, the PRB produced a magic or symbolic realism, often using devices found in the poetry of Tennyson and Browning.

4.     Believing that the arts were closely allied, the PRB encouraged artists and writers to practice each other's art, though only D.G. Rossetti did so with particular success.

5.     Looking for new subjects, they drew upon Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson.

The group's intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. They believed that the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on academic teaching of art. Hence the name "Pre-Raphaelite". In particular they objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts. The Brotherhood's early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:

1.     To have genuine ideas to express;

2.     To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;

3.     To sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;

4.     And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

These principles are deliberately undogmatic, since the Brotherhood wished to emphasise the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their own ideas and method of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, they thought that freedom and responsibility were inseparable.

Stages of the Movement.


 Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood can be divided into two stages. The first stage started with the foundation of the brotherhood in 1848. In this stage the intention of the artists is “to create an art suitable for the modern age”, these artists are, for exmple, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, George Meredith, William Morris or Algernonn Charles Swinburne. Many authors were being included in this circle as the time went by, Madox Brown and Charles Collins, John Ruskin, or Edward Burne-Jones are some examples of these authors.

The second stage of the movement was called Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism. This second stage grew out under the direction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and was during this stage when the Arts and Craft Movement, modern functional design, and the Aesthetes and Decadents were produced. Themes of eroticized medievalism and pictorial techniques that produced moody athmosphere were emphasized by authors like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Burne-Jones. This second stage is the most relevant stage for poetry, it is here where combinations of realistic style and elaborate symbolism are seen, mostly in Rossetis’ poems.


Coventry Patmore, who was well acquainted with the young men who formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood before they became famous, deserves a special place in the history of the movement. young poet who provided the subject of one of the first PRB pictures. In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt recalls that "Patmore's Woodsman's Daughter was a novel interest to all of us eager to find new poems"



Pre-Raphaelitism in painting and in literature.


The Pre-Raphaelites and their followers relied strongly on narrative sources for paintings. They also created groups of paintings, those discussed here ranging from two to eight, that together convey a narrative. By painting works that not only draw from texts but relate to other paintings, these artists demonstrated with their art a strong desire to make connections. By creating art with strong connections to texts and other paintings, the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates created art that expanded outside the scope of a single canvas, hence heightening the gravitas, complexity and significance of their works, as well as increasing the demands made upon the viewer. These connections among paintings and texts function in several distinctive ways to achieve this heightened complexity: serial paintings expand upon texts; they manipulate time in ways different from those used in single paintings; and most significantly, they maintain their ties to these texts. In many series, the paintings and the texts they use for inspiration complement one another. the Pre-Raphaelite preoccupation with creating archaeologically accurate and practically believable scenes led them to create complete, evocative visual images that rely not only on description in a text, but also on logical and imaginative extensions of texts, and sometimes on powerful reinventions of the images within a text. Pre-Raphaelitism in painting sdopted two forms, on of them was the ‘hard.edge symbolic naturalism’, in 1849; and the other one was teh moody, erotic medievalism, in1850s, during the Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism. This last one is the one that had more relevance to poetry.


Pre-Raphaelitism in poetry had major influence upon the writers of the Decadence of the 1890s, such as Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Michael Field, and Oscar Wilde, as well as upon Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Butler Yeats, both of whom were influenced by John Ruskin and visual Pre-Raphaelitism. Pre-Raphaelitism in painting had two forms or stages, first, the hard-edge symbolic naturalism of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that began in 1849 and, second, the moody, erotic medievalism that took form in the later 1850s. Many critics imply that only this second, or Aesthetic, Pre-Raphaelitism has relevance to poetry. In fact, although the combination of realistic style with elaborate symbolism that distinguishes the early movement appears in a few poems, particularly in those by James Collinson and the Rossettis, this second stage finally had the largest -- at least the most easily noticeable -- influence on literature.

As Anthony Harrison points out in his study of Christina Rossetti, “the Pre-Raphaelites predictably etherealized sensation, displacing it from logical contexts and all normally expected physical relations with objects in the external world. With the Pre-Raphaelites the sensory and even the sensual become idealized, image becomes symbol, and physical experience is superseded by mental states as we are thrust deeply into the self-contained emotional worlds of their varied personae. Very seldom do we have even the implied auditor of Browning's dramatic monologues to give us our bearings, to situate a speaker's perceptions in the phenomenal world. In this respect Pre-Raphaelite poems resemble many from the first two volumes of their much-admired Tennyson (especially "Mariana," "The Lotos-Eaters," "The Palace of Art," and "Oenone"). However, unlike his Pre-Raphaelite emulators, Tennyson, after In Memoriam, for the most part rejected predominantly aesthetic poetry”.

Robert Browning , whose work was enormously popular with them all and a particular influence on Rossetti, who wrote out Pauline (1833) from the British Museum copy. Like the paintings of the Brotherhood, Browning's poems simultaneously extend the boundaries of subject and create a kind of abrasive realism, and like the work of the young painters, his also employ elaborate symbolism drawn from biblical types to carry the audience beyond the aesthetic surface, to which he, like the painters, aggressively draws attention. One must mention the Browningesque element in Pre-Raphaelite poetry because it appears intermittently all the way up to Hopkins in self-consciously difficult language, the dramatic monologue, and elaborate applications of biblical typology.

Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism, nonetheless, has most in common with the poets of this group, all of whom draw upon the poetic continuum that descends from Spenser through Keats and Tennyson -- upon the poetic line, in other words, that emphasizes lush vowel sounds, sensuous description, subjective psychological states, elaborate personification, and complex poetic forms, such as the sestina, borrowed from Italian and Provençal love poetry. 

They were particularly fascinated by Medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity lost in later eras. This emphasis on medieval culture was to clash with the realism promoted by the stress on independent observation of nature. In its early stages the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood believed that the two interests were consistent with one another, but in later years the movement divided in two directions. The realist side was led by Hunt and Millais, while the medievalist side was led by Rossetti and his followers, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. This split was never absolute, since both factions believed that art was essentially spiritual in character, opposing their idealism to the materialist realism associated with Courbet and Impressionism.


Pre-Raphalite’s influence


The Pre-Raphaelites were very important in art (including both, painting and literature), they influenced upon British, American and European art. Pre-Raphaelitism in poetry had major influence upon the writers of the Decadence of the 1890’s. Some of these authors are: Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Michael Field, Oscar Wilde, and Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Butter Yeats. Both, Hopkins and Yeats were highly influenced by John Ruskin and visual Pre-Raphaelitism.


Artists who were influenced by the Brotherhood include John Brett, Philip Calderon, Arthur Hughes, Evelyn De Morgan and Frederic Sandys. Ford Madox Brown, who was associated with them from the beginning, is often seen as most closely adopting the Pre-Raphaelite principles.

After 1856, Rossetti became an inspiration for the medievalising strand of the movement. His work influenced his friend William Morris, in whose firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. he became a partner, and with whose wife Jane he may have had an affair. Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones also became partners in the firm. Through Morris's company the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many interior designers and architects, arousing interest in medieval designs, as well as other crafts. This led directly to the Arts and Crafts movement headed by William Morris. Holman Hunt was also involved with this movement to reform design through the Della Robbia Pottery company.

The movement influenced the work of many later British artists well into the twentieth century. Rossetti later came to be seen as a precursor of the wider European Symbolist movement. In the late twentieth century the Brotherhood of Ruralists based its aims on Pre-Raphaelitism, while the Stuckists have also have derived inspiration from it.


The work of Pre-Raphaelite artists has been influenced by painting, the paintings are essential to understand the meaning of a Pre-Raphaelite poem, because the poetry of the Pre-Raphaelite artists shares the characteristics of the painter’s art.  


Symbolic Realism in Pre-Raphaelitism

Symbolism is the applied use of symbols: iconic representations that carry particular conventional meanings.

The term "symbolism" is often limited to use in contrast to "representationalism"; defining the general directions of a linear spectrum - where in all symbolic concepts can be viewed in relation, and where changes in context may imply systemic changes to individual and collective definitions of symbols. "Symbolism" may refer to a way of choosing representative symbols in line with abstract rather than literal properties, allowing for the broader interpretation of a carried meaning than more literal concept-representations allow. A religion can be described as a language of concepts related to human spirituality. Symbolism hence is an important aspect of most religions. However, not all use it, but most do at some point in time.


Typology (or typological symbolism) is a Christian form of biblical interpretation that proceeds on the assumption that God placed anticipations of Christ in the laws, events, and people of the Old Testament. Typology, which had enormous influence on medieval Europe, seventeenth century England, and Victorian Britain, not only provided literature and art with powerfully imaginative images but also influenced attitudes towards reality and time as well. 


There are some authors that tried to represent their religious beliefs through their art using symbolic realism. Some of these authors are Holman Hunt or John Ruskin, for example. 



- The Victorian Web:

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