Essay On Pre-Raphaelites

This past year was unusual in witnessing no book-length studies on Pre-Raphaelite literary topics per se, though several collections include essays on these subjects. As compensation, however, a plethora of excellent articles have burgeoned, and in a further noticeable change, criticism on the Rossetti family has centered more on the work of Dante Gabriel than that of his sister. In what follows, I will first discuss essays which consider some aspect of “Pre-Raphaelitism” as a whole, then review items on the Rossettis and Elizabeth Siddal, and finally, turn to new material on Morris and his circle.


Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Art and Literature, edited by Amelia Yates and Serena Trowbridge (Ashgate) includes several valuable reexaminations of Pre-Raphaelite artistry from the perspective of gender and feminist-influenced “masculinity studies.” In “‘How grew such presence from man’s shameful swarm’: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Victorian Masculinity” (pp. 11–34), Jay D. Sloan argues that prior feminist and post-feminist assessments of Rossetti’s work have incorrectly assumed that these manifest a unitary point of view, whereas Rossetti instead explores several alternate modes of masculinity [End Page 327] in his poetry. He defines the most important of these personae as those of “Confessional Man” and the “Pilgrim of Love,” as exemplified by “Jenny” and a sonnet, “On the Vita Nuova of Dante.” Sloan’s reading of “Jenny” concludes that the poem “captures the ultimate damning reality of Victorian masculinity, its infinite capacity for denial”—a view which he believes Rossetti presents ironically and at critical distance. Since much of the chapter centers on his interpretation of “Jenny,” however, it might also seem useful to consider whether the persona of “Confessional Man” appears in Rossetti’s other narratives and sonnets.

In “‘Me, Who Ride Alone’: Male Chastity in Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Art” (pp. 151–168), Dinah Roe identifies the motivations which underlie the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of the unmated warrior and artist, characterized by his “suppression of desire.” She traces the permutations of this ideal in the work of Frederic Stephens, Dante Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and others, noting the often-hostile Victorian critical reactions to several variants of artistically embodied non-normative forms of masculinity. She traces such embodiments from an early Tractarian-influenced ideal of monastic-like brotherhood, through celebration of the quests of lone knightly warriors such as Galahad, to a final stage of identification with previous artist and singer figures such as Dante and the storytellers of The Earthly Paradise. Discerning in Christina Rossetti’s “Repining,” Dante Rossetti’s “The Staff and Scrip,” and Morris’s “Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery” characteristic expressions of “the conflation of chaste male and modern artist,” she finds this configuration central to Walter Pater’s developing aestheticism, as well as a prelude to later fin de siècle challenges to norms of masculine self-restraint.

Sally-Anne Huxtable’s “In Praise of Venus: Victorian Masculinity and Tännhauser as Aesthetic Hero” (pp. 169–188), explores the meanings ascribed to the legend of Venus’s cave by artists and poets of the period. She finds Venus’s hill “a queer space” which protected the enactment of inexpressible anti-normative desires and traces its permutations from its Germanic origins through the poems of Swinburne and Morris, the paintings of Edward Burne-Jones, and Oscar Wilde’s dialogue, “The Critic as Artist.” Especially interesting is Huxtable’s commentary on Burne-Jones’ “Laus Veneris,” which she interprets as representing an anguished and abandoned Venus languishing in a female-centered, “highly fashionable Aesthetic interior.”

In “A ‘World of Its Own Creation’: Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and the New Paradigm for Art” (Twenty-First Century Perspectives on Victorian Literature, ed. Laurence W. Mazzeno, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 127–150), David Latham returns to the vexed issue of how to identify specific features of Pre-Raphaelite writing. Noting that the claim that the Pre-Raphaelites reproduced “nature” has been [End Page 328] misleading, Latham instead identifies a “jarring conflict of tensions” produced by its characteristic early features, “a literary subject within a naturalistic setting with a decorative style.” After examining instances of...

The Pre-Raphaelites Essay

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Pre-Raphaelites, a group made up of 19th-century English painters, poets, and critics who's work responded towards the practice of Victorian and neoclassical subject mater by developing bright imitations of religious work. More specifically, "and of the most beautiful are the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers, bright and clear colours, fair women and themes from myths and legends."(Darkamber 1). The groups source of inspiration came from early Renaissance painters and medieval times. This was up until the time of the famous, well known, Raphael. Raphael was an Italian painter who imitated his teachers work so carefully that it was very difficult to decipher the two. His work also entailed architecture as did…show more content…

"They wanted to free art from the stranglehold of the Academy"(Darkamber 1). The qualities encompassed in the PRB's work, singled them out from all other groups at the time. The Royal Academy criticized them for being artificial because the PRB broke away and started to write, paint and sculpt under their own requirements. "First, their paintings were generally bright. Second, they had to be true to nature. Third, they had to have a taste for a significant subject - from mediaeval tales, from poetry, from religion"(Mudhole 2).

Pre-Raphaelite literary work was compared to the romantic era, but "rejected the Romantic's Dioynisian side embodied by Lord Byron"(The Germ 2). Rossetti's earliest literary work appeared in the Germ, which was when the PRB received lots of criticism from Charles Dickens. The PRB, received a lot of heat from the public. "The criticism garnered by the PRB was often derogatory, aiming to ridicule their ‘backward’ aims in painting technique, or the triteness of their poems."(PR_Critic 1). The PRB was on the whole criticized negatively until John Ruskin came to the rescue. At the time. Ruskin was a proclaimed and established art critic so his word carried well. He spoke highly of this form of art that followed the truth of nature, of an art that was beautiful because it depicted what wasn't perfected or over-beatified. John Ruskin left the PRB with this passage:

'go to nature in all singleness of

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