William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, three Royal Academy students, founded the Brotherhood in 1848 with the goal of reforming the Victorian art world by reviving the pure, uncomplicated art of the Middle Ages. At the Royal Academy and Free Exhibition Show in London in 1849, The Brotherhood made its debut. The initials “PRB” were used by the three men to sign their artworks in addition to their signatures.
The style of Pre-Raphaelite poetry:
Raphael’s induction by the Royal Academy was challenged by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The ideas of John Ruskin, who advised artists to “go to nature,” strongly influenced them. The Pre-Raphaelite painters disapproved of traditional methods including using a single source of light in a painting, emphasizing the use of subdued colors to produce shadow and gloomy tones, and using harsh realism. The Pre-Raphaelite painters instead placed an emphasis on vivid colors, evenly illuminated settings, and, most importantly, the extensive use of symbols to enhance the context of works.
These styles spread to a group of poets (D.G. Rossetti, William Morris, Swinburne, C.G. Rossetti, etc.), who started crafting poems with melodic language, mystical themes, natural and frequently sensual imagery, and symbolism. Every Italian painter served as a model for them. Their main goal was to inject beauty and naturalness into literature and art. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was distinguished by its “extreme attention to realism” and fondness of symbolism. One of the characteristics that sets Pre-Raphaelite poetry unique is pictorial representation. Poetry was presented as a spoken image.
Characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite poetry:
Pre-Raphaelite poetry’s first distinguishing feature is that it was an uprising and reaction against the Tennyson-era’s conventionality of poetry. The poets of this school rebelled against the poetry’s increasingly severe treatment to the social and political issues of the day. Tennyson focused on the political, ecclesiastical, and social issues of his time but the Pre-Raphaelites revolted against this time-bound poetry and set a new standard for exaltation that emphasized art rather than the transient and ordinary aspects of everyday existence.
The Pre-Raphaelites’ second trait is that they were artists first and foremost, and their poetry was works of art. Their religion was art. They were the advocates of art for the sake of art. This movement’s poetry was morally neutral and did not advocate any changes to how society should function. Their ethos was to live a life of beauty, and even if doing so required them to act sensually, they did not fear accusations from moralists and traditional puritans. “The House of Life” by D. G. Rossetti contains sonnets that express both the splendor and misery of love. In his sonnets, he mixes the sensual and spiritual sides of love. The poets sought flawless form and finish in both their poetry and their paintings.
The third element of Pre-Raphaelite poetry is that it revives the Biblical subject as the poems like “Eve” by Christina Rossetti (1864), deals with the themes of repentance and grief. With this poem, Christina Rossetti tries to capture the agony and suffering that Eve experienced after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Christina’s intellectual prowess and her in-depth understanding of Catholic doctrine are demonstrated in the poem “Eve.”
The fourth feature of Pre-Raphaelite poetry is that the writers looked back to the good old days of medievalism, when chivalry and knights, exploration and heroism were in the air. The protagonist of this lyrical revival of medievalism was D. G. Rossetti. His poems “Sister Helen” (1853) and “The Blessed Damozel” (1850) have a medieval perspective and structure. The Divine Comedy by Dante also served as an inspiration for “The Blessed Damozel“. Christina Rossetti’s poetry also has a touch of admiration for the Middle Ages. Her “Goblin Market” (1862) is filled with medieval and supernatural themes. The poem narrates the tale of Laura and Lizzie, who are lured with fruit by goblin traders who have tails and animals’ faces that resemble wombats or cats.
The oldest Pre-Raphaelite, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was both a painter and a poet. He first started composing poems as a break from painting. Later, he treated himself to some serious poetry writing. He devoured Shakespearean literature, medieval literature, and William Blake’s theological writings. He published his poetry in two books, “Poems” (1870) and “Ballads and Sonnets” (1881). His impressive poem “The Blessed Damozel” displays his remarkable workmanship. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe served as the inspiration for this dramatic lyric poem. The readers are captivated by the qualities such as the artistic representation and the fervent religious note.
Like Keats’ poetry, Rossetti’s poems heavily rely on their sensual and graphic elements. He wrote a 101- sonnet series titled The House of Life. Rossetti’s love poetry “achieves a delicate blend of nearly exotic sensuality, emotional depth, and spiritual exaltation,” according to Moody and Lovett.
According to Rickett, the Pre-Raphaelites displayed “pictures and feelings like the Japanese organize flowers, so that each may preserve the perfect individuality and color.” To spread their ideals, the Pre-Raphaelites launched The Germ, a monthly periodical but it was not successful and only lasted for four issues. The poet Robert Buchanan also harshly criticized the Pre-Raphaelites for their overwhelming sensuality. In an essay published in The Contemporary Review in 1871 under the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland,” Buchanan referred to them as “The Fleshy School of Poetry.”
The Brotherhood was dissolved in 1854. The artists separated from one another and stopped labeling their works with the distinctive “PRB” of the Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was short-lived, but its members’ beliefs endured. Additionally, the Decadence movement of the late 19th century and a number of well-known poets, most notably Gerard Manley Hopkins and W. B. Yeats were directly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
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