Art History Lab

The Pre-Raphaelite Rebellion: Reviving Art through Nature, Craftsmanship, and Emotion

The Pre-Raphaelite Rebellion: An Overview of Artistic Movements

Art movements often arise in response to the current political, social, and cultural contexts. Pre-Raphaelite art was no exception.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young British artists, emerged in 1848, rebelling against the traditional standards and conventions of British art. They sought to reinvigorate British art by returning to the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance for inspiration.

Opposition to The British Royal Academy

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood openly opposed the British Royal Academy, which had a constrained spectrum of what was considered acceptable and beautiful art. The Royal Academy promoted stylized, idealistic or moral topics rather than depicting genuine emotions.

The Pre-Raphaelites wanted to demonstrate nature’s accuracy and depicted human form realistically, revolting against the heavily staged and posed art style.

Inspiration from Earlier Eras

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was also heavily inspired by craftsmen during the Medieval era and collaborated to form guilds that promoted quality and craftsmanship in their work. They believed in an ethical and moral dimension in their art, which helped the craftsmen to provide the best of their ability in pastoral activities.

The brothers were opposed to the loss of such skills and subscribed to the revival of the Medieval guild system in an industrial age. This helped focus the Pre-Raphaelites on the importance of nature and the human form.

Romanticism Roots

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement also had its roots in Romanticism. The artists were concerned about the rise in crime and industrialization, which devastated nature’s beauty and led to polluted cities.

As a response, they sought to romanticize nature and use it as the inspiration for their art. The artists of the movement emphasized that nature provides everything and that man should work in harmony with it to keep it pure.

In their paintings, they often showed people interacting with nature and honor nature for its vitality.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s members included William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Brotherhood’s co-founder). Their approach to art emphasized genuine emotions and nature’s beauty.

Millaiss famous work, “Ophelia,” shows the Pre-Raphaelite style vividly, with rich colors and accurate details. The paintings’ emotional connection can be felt from Hunts “The Hireling Shepherd,” or Rossetti’s “Proserpine.”The Brotherhood sought to remove what they considered the mechanical and technical rubbish that was plaguing British art, reinvigorating it by getting back to genuine emotion and nature’s beauty.


Therefore the Pre-Raphaelite rebellion serves as an essential artistic movement, demonstrating the power and potential of art in capturing the essence of human existence and its interaction with the natural world. The Brotherhood’s approach to artistic expression and craftsmanship helped revitalize British art, working and inspiring future generations.

Their focus on nature, accuracy, and genuine emotions will continue to influence art for years to come and establish the Pre-Raphaelite art movement as an essential moment in art history.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Split and its impact on the Arts

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood revolutionized British art in the mid-19th century, but it was not without controversy. The group’s principles did not align with the Royal Academy’s traditional standards, and their art was often criticized.

The infamously criticized Christ at the House of His Parents, painted by John Everett Millais, led to the Brotherhood’s initial dissolution. The Brotherhood’s departure prompted the emergence of another significant artistic movement, the Arts and Crafts movement.

Criticisms of Millais’ painting

Critics accused Millais’ Christ at the House of his Parents of blasphemy. The painting depicted the Holy Family in an unflattering way that deviated from traditional Christian iconography.

Mary was shown as a middle-aged woman with rough hands, which contradicted the usual portrayal of the Virgin Mary as young and pure. Christ’s pose, too, was condemned because he was shown as a vulnerable, frightened child, unworthy of being the son of God.

The Brotherhood adamantly defended the painting, arguing that it accurately depicted the Holy Family’s poverty and struggle. Rossetti wrote at the time, “I think Millais’ picture will ultimately verify itself as the finest work of the school of Pre-Raphaelitism.” Despite their defiance, the painting was eventually removed from the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition, and the Brotherhood split into two groups.

The Brotherhood parted ways with Rossetti leading one group, and the other group, comprised of Holman Hunt and Millais, joined the Royal Academy, abandoning their Pre-Raphaelite principles.

Dissolution of the Brotherhood

In addition to Millais’ painting, the Brotherhood’s internal problems contributed to its dissolution. Woolner resigned from the group, citing his discomfort with the infighting and division in the Brotherhood.

Eventually, Millais and Holman Hunt’s departure from the Brotherhood signaled the end of the movement in its original form. Although the Brotherhood was no longer a unified force, it impacted the development of the Arts and Crafts movement, which emerged in the 1880s.

Meeting of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Morris

In the wake of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s split, its founders, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Morris, continued to work together, promoting a medievalist aesthetic and lifestyle, inspired by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They shared the Brotherhood’s commitment to medieval craftsmanship and traditional techniques.

Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Morris pursued the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ideas in the applied arts, rather than just painting. Morris & Co. and the Arts and Crafts movement

Morris founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later known as Morris & Co.), a firm that produced exquisite decorative arts including stained glass, wallpaper, furniture, and textiles.

Morris and his collaborators, including Burne-Jones, aimed to restore the quality of decorative arts produced in pre-industrial times. They rejected mass-produced items and embraced traditional handicraft techniques, which they deemed crucial in preserving the beauty and integrity of art and crafts.

Morris & Co.’s products were not only functional but also aesthetic, such that many became decorative art pieces themselves. The Arts and Crafts movement took on Pre-Raphaelitism’s principles and expanded upon them, incorporating tradition and craftsmanship into design and a return to the use of natural materials, as well as incorporating motifs from Symbolist literature.

Many women were involved in the movement, which emphasized the importance of women’s involvement in design and craft production. The Arts and Crafts movement’s legacy is that it challenged the Victorian era’s mass-produced, industrialized art and design.


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s split into two groups led to the emergence of a new movement, the Arts and Crafts movement. Although they differed in their practices, both movements shared the same commitment to traditional craftsmanship and a rejection of mass-produced items.

Both the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Arts and Crafts movements marked significant changes in British art and design, as they veered away from the Victorian era’s mass-produced and ornate styles to return to simplicity, natural forms, and traditional techniques.

After the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood left a lasting legacy on the British art scene which can still be observed in both art and design today. The movement’s principles inspired various artists, designers, photographers, and illustrators.

Additionally, the Brotherhood’s ideas regarding objectivity and the medieval aesthetic continue to influence contemporary art movements.

Artists influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism

The Pre-Raphaelite movement influenced not just those of the Brotherhood but other artists, most notably, Ford Madox Brown. He was a friend of and influencer to some of the Brotherhood’s founding members.

Brown adopted Pre-Raphaelite ideas and incorporated naturalism into his art. Brown’s art work such as “Work” depicted ordinary, working-class people in a naturalistic way similar to what the Pre-Raphaelites sought to achieve.

Furthermore, Pre-Raphaelitism’s vision and literary associations influenced various poets and writers, such as William Morris. Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. brought to the decorative art scene the Pre-Raphaelite appreciation for natural materials and craftsmanship.

Morris & Co.’s designs featured intricate floral designs and incorporated treeshells and foliage details into textiles and fabrics. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s appreciation for natural materials led to Morris’s revival of natural dyes, which included indigo and cochineal.

Influence on photography and illustration

The Pre-Raphaelite movement’s medievalist interpretations also extended to photography and illustration. Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer who was heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, especially its approach to portraying the human face and capturing natural beauty.

Her photographs often featured medieval-inspired themes, and her subjects were often dressed in costumes reminiscent of the medieval era. Furthermore, there was a distinct Pre-Raphaelite influence on British illustration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The intricate, ornate, and colorful designs of medieval illuminated manuscripts and Gothic architecture are some examples of sources of inspiration for illustrators. Arthur Rackham, for instance, was an eminent British illustrator whose ornate and intricate works applied Pre-Raphaelite principles of decoration and color to the illustrated book.

Pre-Raphaelitism Concepts

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s concepts such as objectivity in representing nature, realism, naturalism, and the medieval aesthetic continue to captivate contemporary artists around the world.

Objectivity in representing nature

The Pre-Raphaelites sought to create art as objectively as possible to foster accurate representation. They emphasized the importance of objectivity in portraying nature, seeing it as the source of divine beauty.

They were interested in plants such as flora and flowers’ intricate details and aimed to portray these accurately in their art.

Emphasis on medievalism

The Pre-Raphaelite movement emphasized an appreciation for medieval art, craft, and philosophy. They drew inspiration from medieval illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and architecture.

The medieval aesthetic appreciated craftsmanship and preferred natural materials, which remained an essential part of Pre-Raphaelitism even as the movement evolved.


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s impact on British art and design is indisputable, and its influence continues to be felt across different art forms. The Brotherhood’s emphasis on objectivity and the medieval aesthetic, as well as their love for naturalism, have inspired artists, photographers, and designers for years after their initial formation.

The movement’s legacy lives on as a testament to the timelessness of their ideas and aesthetics.

Famous Pre-Raphaelite Paintings

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood produced several iconic paintings that exemplify their unique approach to art. These works showcased the movement’s ideals of objectivity, naturalism, and a return to medieval and early Renaissance influences.

Some of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite paintings include “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais, “Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt, “Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die” by Julia Margaret Cameron, “Laus Veneris” by Edward Burne-Jones, and “Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings” by May Morris. “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“The Girlhood of Mary Virgin” is considered the first public Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Rossetti, one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, created this piece in 1849. It is a highly detailed and symbolic representation of the Virgin Mary’s childhood.

The painting blends elements of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods, with rich colors and intricate religious iconography. “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais’ “Ophelia” is another iconic Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Inspired by Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Millais depicts the tragic character Ophelia in a highly realistic and meticulous manner. The painting captures the moment of her madness and eventual drowning in a river, emphasizing her connection to nature.

The detailed rendering of the flowers and foliage surrounding Ophelia evokes a sense of realism and beauty. “Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt

In “Our English Coasts,” William Holman Hunt explores the beauty of the English coastline.

Painted in 1852, this landscape painting reflects the Pre-Raphaelites’ commitment to naturalism and capturing light in its purest form. Hunt’s meticulous attention to detail and devotion to accurate representation is evident in the painting’s depiction of the rocks, waves, and sky.

There is also a political interpretation to the painting, highlighting concerns about the impact of industrialization on the environment. “Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die” by Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron, although primarily known as a photographer, also contributed to the Pre-Raphaelite movement with her unique aesthetic approach.

“Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die” is a striking photograph that rejects traditional photography techniques of the time. Cameron’s deliberate blurring and dreamlike qualities in her images were highly unconventional.

Her desire to capture the emotional intensity in her subjects rather than seeking pure technical accuracy and sharpness set her work apart. “Laus Veneris” by Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones’ “Laus Veneris” is inspired by the German legend of Tannhuser.

This painting showcases Burne-Jones’ signature style of creating an opulent bower with a heavily ornamented surface. The figures in the painting are presented in an ethereal and mythical manner, reflecting Burne-Jones’ fascination with medieval and Arthurian themes.

The lush colors and intricate details make “Laus Veneris” a mesmerizing example of the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. “Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings” by May Morris

May Morris, daughter of William Morris, inherited the Pre-Raphaelite legacy from her father.

In her work “Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings,” she showcases her skill in embroidery and poetic artistry. Inspired by nature and informed by her father’s teachings, May Morris created highly intricate and imaginative textile designs.

The bed hangings display her mastery of craftsmanship and the use of intricate stitchwork to bring her designs to life.


The iconic Pre-Raphaelite paintings discussed above demonstrate the movement’s commitment to objectivity, naturalism, and a return to medieval and early Renaissance influences. These artworks continue to captivate audiences with their attention to detail, emotional depth, and unique aesthetic choices.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s impact on the art world is undeniable, and their paintings remain celebrated examples of their dedication to reviving art forms and inspirations from earlier eras. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was a groundbreaking artistic rebellion that sought to challenge the traditional standards of British art.

Led by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this movement emphasized objectivity, naturalism, and a return to medieval and early Renaissance influences. Through their famous paintings, such as “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin,” “Ophelia,” “Our English Coasts,” “Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die,” “Laus Veneris,” and “Kelmscott Manor Bed Hangings,” the Pre-Raphaelites left a lasting legacy in the art world.

Their commitment to accurate representation, emotional depth, and intricate craftsmanship continues to inspire artists and designers today. The Pre-Raphaelite movement serves as a reminder of the power of art to challenge norms and revitalize artistic expression, leaving an indelible mark on the history of art.

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