I do love the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, don’t you? They were bon vivants. They were rebels. And they were artists with real talent and an astoundingly new vision. By the time they split and went their separate ways, they had already created a legacy nobody in England could ever forget. I present, the Triumphant Trio: William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Everett Millais.
The Brotherhood was criticized left, right, and center at the beginning of its career because the paintings, which one would not find revolutionary today, were considered anarchistic in early 19th century England. The Pre-Raphaelite philosophy was built on the rejection of the accepted art school of the day, which followed the techniques of Raphael. The Brotherhood acknowledged Raphael as one of the Greats but denounced the Academy of Art as a cabal of close-minded pedants, who believed they could use Raphael’s techniques as a formula to produce consistent masterpieces. Examining a book of art one day, the Brotherhood came across an ancient sketch, one that completely bypassed all the Raphaelite composition rules. The picture was not arranged into a pyramid with the principal character top and center–gasp. How scandalous! The Brotherhood took this discovery as their inspiration. Instead of naming themselves the Anti-Raphaelites, they coined “Pre-Raphaelite,” which at once maintained their allegiance to the ancient tradition, while at the same time asserting opposition to modern trends.
Besides the Brotherhood’s blatant refusal to follow contemporary norms of composition, they horrified critics with their visual realism. Rather than idealizing characters in their paintings (as was the practice of the day), they painted them as they imagined the characters really would be, in human surroundings and with human imperfections. The critics denounced all the subjects of Pre-Raphaelite paintings as hideous. (They aren’t at all.) William Holman Hunt in particular was fascinated with the Middle East, an understanding of which bestowed an element of realism on his paintings of Biblical scenes. Once the public began to praise him instead of pummelling him, he took a trip to Jerusalem so that he could recruit real Jewish rabbis to sit for him in his “Finding in the Temple.”
As you can see, from the meticulous embroidery on Jesus’ mantel to the seadheads of dried-out weeds, he allowed no detail to pass unpainted.
Millais’ painting “Ophelia” is probably the most well known Pre-Raphaelite painting. Upon seeing it for the firt time, one critic exclaimed softly, “Why, Millais has made dying look beautiful.” The picture captures Ophelia afloat in a country bog as she drowns, weighed down by her heavy garments. It captures the delicacy of her madness, and each flower around her symbolizes an aspect of grief. A professor of botany once said he would rather teach his students plants of the English countryside by showing them Millais’ painting than by taking a fieldtrip to see actual specimens.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was important to organizing the group as Millais was to bringing them fame. However, I think he had the least talent of the three. All the ladies in his paintings look the same, and his brushstrokes and colors are heavy and dull. Still, there is no doubt that without his charisma and leadership, the Brotherhood would never have existed. He is credited with initiating its founding. Although his art is not to his taste, I’ll include one painting of his that brims with visceral emotion. He painted it soon after its subject, his lover, died. I present “Beata Beatrix.”
Since the time of the Brotherhood, many other artists have followed in the footsteps of Hunt, Millais, and Rossetti. It is these followers whose paintings are featured in the story you have all been waiting for:
A Saturday Morning in Pre-Raphaelite Paintings
Each morning, I arise blearily at the crack of dawn after a rough night of tossing and turning. And bad pillows. Sometimes an alarm wakes me up, but on weekends, its the crooning of a very loud and inconsiderate singer. A cold draft wafts my hair around, and chills me to the bone. To the bathroom! It has a heater! And so hope can be found in the most chilling circumstances.I try to brush my teeth get ready for the day, but the bathroom’s always full of people who crowd me and slam doors.
But at length I am dressed and ready to go. I try to wear big hats as much as possible, even though my mother gives me odd looks. The way I dress for the day often determines whether it will be a good one or a bad one. Or artistic or phlegmatic or whatever. It sets the tone. Hats promote creativity.
When I go down to eat breakfast, there is a certain Somebody sitting at the kitchen table all bright eyed and dewy or whatever that term is. I glare at her because she is the singing person who woke me up. Also, I know her long, blonde hair is tangled, and she will soon ask me to brush it out. There. She asked. Didn’t I say she would? I tell her to chop it all off, and she ignores me. I brush it out. Ah. Much better. Stop talking and eat your breakfast!
Then I study and work and study until I’m even grumpier than before. Sometimes I draw pictures to make myself perk up. It doesn’t work. I mess up the drawing and throw a temper tantrum. Yeah, I’m mature. So I ask the brother to make a fire in the wood burning stove, using my drawings as tinder. I poke at it a bit to look like an expert.
I flop back on the bed and finger my necklace and reminisce about those times I wasn’t supposed to wear jewelry at track meets and did anyway. But chop, chop! Can’t waste time reminiscing!
Time to practice violin. Usually I don’t use a stand because the Someone is using it to practice cello. So I dance around, totally unfocused, getting all passionate and forgetting to practice because it is so ravishing just to play, play, play!
Then I go to the piano (which is a lot like a harp, just with keys connecting to the strings so you don’t have to pluck), and I improvise and compose a bit. Unfortunately, I hate writing music down, so it all stays in my head and when I attempt collaborations, things fail because nobody knows the songs but me…… maybe I need to work on that.
Then I pretend I have a significant other – not because I want one, but because I need to write a romantic subplot into my novel, and I would never make any of my real relationships into experiments, devoid of true emotion and designed only to further my life experience to enrich my writing…. never…. hm.
At some point, my mother tells me to do laundry or sweep the floor or clean the bathroom. I grab a book to carry the whole time I am doing these chores. I don’t know why I always need to carry a book while I do these chores. It’s just animal instinct.
But soon I am free – free to relax and read. And to send withering glares into the hearts of any who disturb me. Beware.
Agh! What do you want now? Oh, you’re giving a cello concert at 4 ‘o clock? AM or PM? One can never know with you, early bird. What? I have to fill out this form? Twenty-five questions? WHAT!?!?! Just to go to a cello concert. Why do I have to fill out my name and age to watch your cello concert! YOU KNOW MY NAME AND AGE!?!? Okay, I’ll do it. Why do you gotta be so cute?
It’s noon – time for lunch! Farewell, friends, farewell.