An Introduction

You will have to excuse the sparseness of the theme I have chosen for this blog; it certainly doesn’t reflect the rich, jewel-like quality of Pre-Raphaelite art! Nevertheless I hope my words will be ornamentation enough, and there will of course be illustrations.

Why have I dedicated a blog to Pre-Raphaelitism, and occasionally Aestheticism? Simply put, I have long been obsessed — for want of a better word — with the PRB, and now seek a written outlet for my obsession. I love Pre-Raphaelitism not only for its dreamy, romantic medievalism and beautiful, painstaking method of painting, but also for its diversity: over the course of the mid-to-late nineteenth-century it branched out into stained-glass, book design and illustration, textiles, the new art of photography, and more mediums I have not listed. Even the written word got the Pre-Raphaelite bug, with poems by the two Rossettis, Swinburne, &c., and the work of William Morris from his pre-Tolkien fantasy writings to his flawed but beautiful News from Nowhere.

Frontispiece and first page of William Morris's novel 'News from Nowhere'
Frontispiece and first page of William Morris’s novel ‘News from Nowhere (1890)

An interest in the Pre-Raphaelites seems well-timed, though they have already fascinated me since secondary school. In recent years there has been a noticeable resurgence of interest in Pre-Raphaelitism in both popular culture and academic research: the Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites published last year, the BBC’s Desperate Romantics (something of a Marmite series for Pre-Raphaelite fans), numerous exhibitions (with Tate Britain’s latest being the most notable), and most recently the upcoming film Effie, among other things, have all served to thrust the Brotherhood back into the public and scholarly consciousness when in the past they were ridiculed as mere ‘biscuit tin art’. Now, for instance, the phrase ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ is used to describe  any woman who happens to have flowing red locks — Florence Welch, and even the ‘Pre-Raphaelite femme fatale’ Rebekah Brooks — and the visual style of the PRB has been influential on various fashion photo shoots. Undoubtedly, then, Pre-Raphaelitism has become one of the more popular art movements, partly because many people are, I think, drawn to the fact that Pre-Raphaelite art is incredibly beautiful to look at. But does its popularity in any way lessen its beauty? Not for me.

Saoirse Ronan looking Ophelia-esque in Vogue, December 2011
Saoirse Ronan looking Ophelia-esque in US Vogue, December 2011

Finally, I assume that people reading my blog (if anyone reads it at all) will already have some basic knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelites, to save me writing an introductory biography of the Brotherhood (other art historians have done a better job). This WordPress is essentially a way of exploring and elucidating aspects and details of Pre-Raphaelitism that interest me and which I hope will, by turns, interest others. Why, for example, do Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s models have such elongated, willowy fingers? I am also particularly intrigued by Pre-Raphaelite homes, Kelmscott Manor being a favourite (I’ve visited it twice); and although I am yet to visit Red House I find myself drawn to its faux-medieval atmosphere and jovial spirit of communal artistic practice. Pre-Raphaelite furniture, such as Edward Burne-Jones’s ‘Prioress’s Tale’ Wardrobe, is also a delightful topic, and similarly the strange constructions found in Rossetti’s watercolours (see the fanciful medieval-instrument-cum-chair in A Christmas Carol below). I will also write analyses on individual works of art by some of my favourite Pre-Raphaelites, so expect a lot of Rossettis, Burne-Joneses and Solomons. It is difficult to sum up succinctly everything I would like to explore in this blog: really, anything Pre-Raphaelite that takes my fancy!

I could go on. But I shan’t; instead, I’ll save my words for future posts about the wonderful, ingenious Pre-Raphaelites.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'A Christmas Carol', 1857-58
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘A Christmas Carol’, 1857-58; is it a chair? Is it a keyboard? Is it a cupboard?

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