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Origins and Manifesto

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in September 1848 at a turbulent time when ruptures in the new industrial society became visible. Hunt and Millais witnessed a Chartist demonstration in that year.

Many Victorians felt that in the machine age, beauty and spirituality had been lost. Gothic Revival architects like Augustus Pugin turned back to medieval styles. The German Nazarene painters rejected modernity and adopted historical styles of painting and of dress. John Ruskin described in The Stones of Venice the ‘freedom’ of medieval times in contrast to the ‘slavery’ of the modern factory. The invention of photography in 1839 profoundly changed the way people perceived the world. All these influenced the young Pre-Raphaelites.

At first, they formed a tight-knit, conspiratorial group, refusing to explain the initials PRB on their canvases. Their early works caused critical protest. The sharp outlines and bright colours derived from the early Italian paintings at the National Gallery. The PRB published a journal, The Germ, which acted as a manifesto, planting the seeds of artistic revolution.

The Pre-Raphaelites managed to be both historical and contemporary in their approach. They adopted the freshness of early-Renaissance art, but their work is essentially modern.