We were really like brothers, continually together and confiding to one another all experience bearing on questions of art and literature and many affecting us as individuals. We dropped using the term “Esquire” on letters, and substituted “P.R.B.” … There were monthly meetings, at the houses and studios of the various members in succession; occasionally a moonlight walk or a night on the Thames …Those were the days of youth, and each man in the company, even if he did not project great things of his own, reveled in poetry or sunned himself in art.”
W. M. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, 1895
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Later four more members had also joined to form a seven-strong Brotherhood. These were William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s brother), Thomas Woolner, James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens. Ford Madox Brown was also invited to join, but preferred to remain independent.They rejected ‘the frivolous art of the day’.
Contemporary critics and artists saw Raphael as the great Renaissance master, but the Pre-Raphaelites repudiated Raphael and his many mannerist imitators and what they saw as the hypocrosy of the Victorian academic art tradition. In the magazine The Germ, they outlined their ideas which was to to ‘enunciate the principles of those who, in the true spirit of Art, enforce a rigid adherence to the simplicity of Nature either in Art or Poetry’. They objected to what they saw as the conventionalities and feeble reminiscences from the Old Masters which they considered to be typical of Sir Joshua Reynolds and other artists. They were particularly fascinated by medieval art which they considered embodied a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in the intervening years.
Their work caused a great deal of controversy. Millais’s painting “Christ in the House of His Parents” was considered to be blasphemous by many critics including Charles Dickens. However, Ruskin admired their work and also supported them financially.
After 1856, Rossetti became associated with William Morris already closely allied to Edward Burne-Jones in a now much looser group interested in medievalism. He became a partner in the firm,Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and was an admirer of Morris’s wife, Jane Burden Morris who was a model for many paintings. Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones also became partners in the firm. Through Morris’s company the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many architects and designers, arousing interest in medieval designs, as well as other crafts. The windows of the North Aisle, the Lady Chapel and the South Chancel windows produced by the Morris firm are based on Pre-Raphaelite designs.