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The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists that came together in England in the mid- 19th century . These shaped the Pre-Raphaelism named after them , a style that was strongly influenced by the painters of the Italian Trecento and Quattrocento and by the German Nazarenes - but also by artists of the Italian Renaissance such as Botticelli and especially Raphael , although the Pre-Raphaelites already rejected them.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Christ in the house of his parents by JE Millais, 1849/50

In 1844 John Everett Millais , who was then just fifteen , met his fellow student William Holman Hunt at the Royal Academy in London , with whom he soon became a close friend. Together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti , whose brother William Rossetti , Frederic George Stephens , Thomas Woolner and James Collinson founded Millais and Hunt in 1848 in the house of Millais' parents, 83 Gower Street, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood ( The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , PRB).

They set out their goals in a manifesto:

  • To have genuine ideas to express;
  • To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • To sympathize 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;
  • And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The head of the group was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who also emerged as a poet . He admired William Blake and was instrumental in his rediscovery. In 1848 he was briefly a student of Ford Madox Brown , who was acquainted with Overbeck and Cornelius in Rome . He tells Rossetti about the then already disintegrated German Lukasbund and encourages him to join a similar brotherhood.

Their goal was, in the painting rediscover especially the nature and to draw from it what they sought to achieve in the painting in particular with detailed depictions of nature. They rejected academic painting , which, according to Hunt, only created “wax figures” but not “living beings”. From 1849 the magazine The Germ was published to spread the Pre-Raphaelite ideas. However, it only reached four numbers. Edward Burne-Jones became a younger, more important representative of the direction . This group also includes the now completely forgotten Simeon Solomon , who was celebrated as a genius in his time and of whom Burne-Jones said: "Solomon was the greatest artist of all of us."

As a distinguishing mark, all paintings were to be signed with “PRB”, but without wanting to reveal the meaning of this abbreviation to the public, which only succeeded for a short time. While the works of the Pre-Raphaelites were initially ostracized by the public (and especially the Academy) because of their sometimes sharp reality (for example in the depiction of the workshop in Millais 'painting Jesus in his parents' house ), the tide turned in favor of the artist movement when John Ruskin , an important art historian and critic of the time, sided with the Pre-Raphaelites and in particular Millais with several letters in the Times in 1851 and extolled the representation of nature without concealment and selection, as the Pre-Raphaelites used. The resulting change in the public awareness of Pre-Raphaelite painting brought its representatives, and especially Millais, recognition and, above all, increased sales of their works, which was not least promoted by a more "pleasant" painting style (especially Millais' Huguenot , 1851 / 52). The meetings of the brotherhood became less frequent with this (partial) success of their ideas. When Millais was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1853, the brotherhood finally broke up, which some of its members such as Rossetti and Hunt, who was very keen on friendship with Millais, found it difficult to overcome. From April 1858, some of the members found a new platform for further work in the Hogarth Club .

Ecce Ancilla Domini
by D. G. Rossetti, 1849/50

The name

Pre-Raphaelite , i.e. pre-Raphaelite , refers to the initial rejection of Raphael's work, which was perceived as classic. Rather, the art of the late Middle Ages was highlighted as exemplary and linked to the demand for a naturalistic representation of nature, the latter in turn referring to an examination of young photography. The Pre-Raphaelites were fascinated by the clarity and rigor of late medieval Italian art of the Trecento and Quattrocento , which they preferred to the academic art of the time , which was perceived as baroque . So it was probably a fortunate coincidence that in the 1840s some important works of old Dutch and Italian painting before Raphael found their way into the National Gallery: in 1842 the Arnolfini wedding of Jan van Eyck (1434) and in 1848 the San Benedetto altar by Lorenzo Monaco (1407-1409). The pre-Raphaelites - like the Nazarenes before them - found their role model in the workshop practice of the early Renaissance painters. "The historical reference should not lead to a l'art pour l'art , but help change society."

Painting technique and drawing style

Enthusiastic about late medieval Italian fresco painting , Hunt first used a technique similar to fresco on canvas. A fresco painter has to paint in the damp plaster and can only work in sections. He has to complete the image sections on one day and cannot make any further corrections afterwards. Hunt painted in the same way in sections: he completed individual sections and then did not correct anything. This was soon adopted by the other Pre-Raphaelites. In addition, the fresco was approached by working on a still damp white painting surface, which gave the colors an unusual brilliance. Long before the Impressionists , the Pre-Raphaelites painted extensively in the fresh air: The exact depictions of nature even in the backgrounds were often made under the open sky, sometimes under adverse conditions. How far the Pre-Raphaelites carried their realism is shown by an incident on the occasion of the creation of Millais' Ophelia : The model , Elizabeth Siddal , who had to lie in the bathtub for hours in a light dress, fell critically ill with pneumonia. Both the painting according to sections and the brutal and extremely detailed reality of the representation of nature in all parts of the picture often cause the pictures to “fall apart”; a mosaic of self-contained parts of the picture is created that is barely comprehensible for the normal picture experience. The resulting flat, carpet-like effect of the pictures anticipates the design principles of later Art Nouveau painting.

Their style of drawing distinguishes the Pre-Raphaelites most strongly from academic practice. The Pre-Raphaelites preferred not round “classical” drawings, but rather rigid “Gothic” shapes.

The Black Brunswicker
by JE Millais, 1860

Pre-Raphaelite art is known for its bright and vibrant colors. The artists achieved this by priming the canvas white and then applying the oil paint in thin layers. Her work was meticulous and her subjects were inspired by myths and legends, Shakespeare and Keats. Her wives were beautiful and had long hair, which is now equated with "Victorian beauty".


There are some artists who did not belong to the Pre-Raphaelites, but are often attributed to them because they were close friends and influenced by them, especially Rossetti. These include: William Morris, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones , Sir John William Waterhouse , Evelyn De Morgan , Arthur Hughes , Ford Madox Brown , John Collier , Charles Allston Collins , Marianne Stokes , Sophie Gengembre Anderson , Frederic Lord Leighton - and even James McNeill Whistler . The poet Christina Rossetti as well as the artist and social critic John Ruskin , the poet and painter William Bell Scott and the sculptor John Lucas Tupper are among them.


The Pre-Raphaelites emerged from the rejection of the sterile academy painting of their time. Unlike the Nazarenes , they not only had a religious impetus, but also initially dealt with the social aspects of their time in their choice of topics. The Pre-Raphaelites are closely related to the later Arts and Crafts movement around William Morris , as well as to Aestheticism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau . Ultimately, they were an outflow of romantic striving towards nature, which is in part strongly mystified, on the other hand, a turn to the Middle Ages can be recorded, which also determined the cultural debate of the time on the continent.


Although the brotherhood only existed for five years, the Pre-Raphaelite style determined the painting of Victorian England and was cultivated in English painting until the beginning of the First World War . In Germany, Theodor Fontane had reported on these artists as a correspondent in 1857 in his “Tenth Letter from Manchester”. He wrote at the time: “Here we have germs for the future and, after the purification process has passed, perhaps a new silver glimpse of art.” With the complete artistic reorientation in the “civilized” world after the World War, however, the Pre-Raphaelites were visibly forgotten.

It was not until the 1960s that large-scale solo exhibitions of the most important Pre-Raphaelites saw a change in reception in Great Britain , which brought the Pre-Raphaelites back into the art consciousness as an integral part of art of the 19th century. In the following, interest in them also grew steadily in the USA and Western Europe (large exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1984 ). In Germany, too, there have been repeated exhibitions of Pre-Raphaelite art in recent years, for example in 2004 at the National Museums in Berlin . Art prints and poster reproductions of Pre-Raphaelite works are also very popular, which can be explained by the increasing tendency of the present day to flee to dream worlds and mysticism, especially in Pre-Raphaelite works. In 2012 the exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde took place at Tate Britain .


There are many anecdotes about how much the Pre-Raphaelites wanted to stay true to nature and the hardships they took on themselves. Hunt traveled to the shores of the Dead Sea because of his painting The Scapegoat in order to capture the landscape accurately. Millais quartered himself for Christ in his parents' house in a carpenter's workshop to be able to observe which muscles are particularly pronounced in a carpenter. Ford Madox Brown had his family modeled outside in bad weather to capture the mood for his painting The Last of England . When it came to medieval themes, they first tailored their clothes according to original templates and built furniture in the style of the respective epoch.

Literature (selection)

Catalogs :

  • Günter Metken : Pre-Raphaelites. State Art Gallery, Baden-Baden, November 23, 1973 - February 24, 1974. State Art Gallery, Baden-Baden 1973.
  • Gerda Breuer (Ed.): Arts and Crafts. From Morris to Mackintosh - reform movement between applied arts and social utopia. (Initiator for Art Nouveau, Werkbund and Bauhaus). Mathildenhöhe Institute, Darmstadt, December 11th, 1994 - April 17th, 1995. Mathildenhöhe Institute, Darmstadt 1994.
  • Linda Parry (Ed.): William Morris. (Published to coincide with the Exhibition William Morris 1834-1896 held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 9 May - 1 September 1996). Wilson et al., London 1996, ISBN 0-85667-441-9 .
  • Moritz Wullen (Ed.): Nature as a vision. Masterpieces of the English Pre-Raphaelites. (On the occasion of the exhibition Nature as a Vision - Masterpieces of the English Pre-Raphaelites. An exhibition by Tate Britain in connection with the National Gallery Berlin. Altes Museum, Museum Island Berlin, June 11th - September 5th, 2004). DuMont, Berlin et al. 2004, ISBN 3-8321-7485-0 .
  • Colin Cruise: Pre-Raphaelite Drawing. (On the occasion of the exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Drawing organized by Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, and shown at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (29 January - 15 May 2011) and The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (17 June - 4 September 2011)). Thames & Hudson, London 2011, ISBN 978-0-500-23881-3 .
  • Stephen Calloway, Lynn Federle Orr (Eds.): The Cult of Beauty. The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900. (Published to accompany the Exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860–1900. Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco in collaboration with the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. V&A: April 2 - July 17, 2011, Musée d'Orsay: September 12, 2011 - January 15, 2012, de Young Museum, San Francisco: February 18 - June 17, 2012). V&A Publishing, London 2011, ISBN 978-1-85177-628-3 .
  • Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, Alison Smith: Pre-Raphaelites. Victorian avant-garde. (Exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, Tate Britain, London, 12 September 2012 - 13 January 2013, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 February - 19 May 2013, State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 10 June - September 30th, 2013). Tate Publishing, London 2012, ISBN 978-1-85437-930-6 .

Monographs :

  • Renato Barilli: The Pre-Raphaelites. Pawlak, Herrsching 1988, ISBN 3-88199-426-2 .
  • Heather Birchall: The Pre-Raphaelites. Taschen Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-8228-5486-0 .
  • Giorgiana Burne-Jones: Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones. 2 volumes. Macmillan, London 1904, ( digitized volume 1 , digitized volume 2 ).
  • Peter Davey: Arts and crafts architecture. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-421-03099-5 .
  • Herbert Eulenberg : The Pre-Raphaelites. The ferry, Düsseldorf-Kaiserswerth 1946.
  • Henrietta Garnett: Wives and Stunners. The Pre-Raphaelites and their Muses. Macmillan, London et al. 2012, ISBN 978-0-230-70940-9 .
  • Frederik Hetmann (di: Hans-Christian Kirsch): William Morris - a man against time. Life and work. Diederichs, Cologne 1983, ISBN 3-424-00772-2 (special edition as: William Morris - a man against time. Poet, book artist, designer, social reformer. Ibid 1996, ISBN 3-424-01343-9 ).
  • Gisela Hönninghausen (Ed.): The Pre-Raphaelites. Poetry, painting, aesthetics, reception (= Reclams Universal-Bibliothek . Nr. 18095). Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-018095-3 .
  • Lothar Hönninghausen: Pre-Raphaelites and Fin de Siècle. Symbolistic tendencies in late English romanticism. Fink, Munich 1971.
  • William Holman Hunt : Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2 volumes. Macmillan, London et al. 1905, ( digitized volume 1 , digitized volume 2 ).
  • Margarete Jaris: The Pre-Raphaelites in Art and Poetry (= French and English reading sheets . 114, ZDB -ID 2062022-6 ). Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld et al. 1927.
  • Gordon Kerr: One Hundred Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces. Flame Tree Publishing, London 2011, ISBN 978-0-85775-251-2 .
  • Günter Metken: The Pre-Raphaelites. Ethical realism and ivory tower in the 19th century. DuMont Schauberg, Cologne 1974, ISBN 3-7701-0693-8 .
  • Elizabeth Prettejohn: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites. 1st paperback edition. Tate Publishing, London 2007, ISBN 978-1-85437-726-5 .
  • Michael Robinson: The Pre-Raphaelites. Their Lives and Works in 500 Images. An Illustrated Exploration of the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood, their Lives and Contexts, with a Gallery of 290 of their Greatest Paintings. Lorenz Books, London 2012, ISBN 978-0-7548-2379-7 .
  • Robert de la Sizeranne: The Pre-Raphelites. Sirrocco, London 2008 ISBN 978-1-84484-537-8 .

Web links

Commons : Pre-Raphaelite Paintings  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters. With a memoir by WM Rossetti. Volume 1. Ellis & Elvey, London 1895, p. 35 .
  2. The pre-Raphaelites; The Germ
  3. Quoted from: Alexandra Matzner: Pre-Raphaelites. An avant-garde movement? - “Truth” and realism go hand in hand. In: November 24, 2013, accessed July 27, 2019 .