Pre-Raphaelites (prēˌ-răfˈēəlĪtsˌ) [key], brotherhood of English painters and poets formed in 1848 in protest against the low standards of British art. The principal founders were D. G. Rossetti, W. Holman Hunt, and John Millais. In poetry as well as painting, the Pre-Raphaelites turned away from the growing materialism of industrialized England. They sought refuge, through literary symbolism and imagery, in the beauty and comparative simplicity of the medieval world. In the works of the Italian painters prior to Raphael, they found a happy innocence of style that they tried to imitate. Influenced by the Nazarenes, a similar group of German painters founded in Rome in 1810, the Pre-Raphaelites declared themselves devotees of nature and truth. In the early 1850s their works were violently criticized, first by Charles Dickens, as being vulgar and ugly. They were defended by John Ruskin and attracted numerous followers, among whom were Edward Burne-Jones, G. F. Watts, and William Morris, but the group disbanded after 1853 and the movement died out before the end of the century. The paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites are characteristically nostalgic in tone and bright in color. Despite their predilection for simplicity, they were highly meticulous in detail and mannered in style. Eventually their painting became as artificial as the historical painting they had organized to protest. There is a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite works at the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Del.
See J. D. Hunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination (1969); J. Nicoll, The Pre-Raphaelites (1970); L. Stevenson, The Pre-Raphaelite Poets (1972); J. Sambrook, ed., Pre-Raphaelitism (1976); T. Hilton, Pre-Raphaelites (1985); J. Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Women (1988); T. Barringer et al., ed., Pre-Raphaelites (museum catalog, 2012).
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