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Department: Visual Arts
Symposium Year: 2013
Student(s): Katherine Riley
Faculty Mentor(s): Dr. Travis English
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and others in 1848 in Great Britain. The young artists sought to define a new tradition in English art that separated it from other European styles. Rejecting the attitude of the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Pre-Raphaelites ignored conservative strictures of history painting, replacing it with a more natural style. Their rejection of academic art brought the Pre-Raphaelites to literature, religion, and myth as major influences. Not without controversy, the group approached their traditional influences with new ideas. Literature and myth became synonymous with painting, while religion was explored on a personal level unseen before. It was for their religious paintings that the Pre-Raphaelites were the most criticized. Taking themes from the past in order to create new imagery caused many traditionalist artists and critics to take offense. Paintings that explored these themes were the most infamous produced the group, but the discussion surrounding them was not to be repeated. It seems that despite the passionate intentions of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, their efforts were partially in vain. By refusing the Renaissance and Raphael, the young artists limited themselves to a particular style that kept from establishing their own tradition. The Pre-Raphaelites were guilty of contradictions: they rejected academic history paintings, yet they embraced history on its own. Regardless, the Pre-Raphaelites were successful in creating a new direction for British painters by incorporating English legends into their art. The inconsistent nature of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would have labeled it as a flawed movement had it not been for the novel approach of creating art in a manner that combined their appreciation for the past and their dislike for academic practice. The newness of their artistic method grants them a prime status among the earliest avant-garde movements.
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