Pre Raphaelites

Love-lorn teenagers drag art back to the future

Leave it to a bunch of teenagers to decide that Raphael ruined art. The strange, insular little movement known as the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood began in 1848 in the home of a young painter named , or more accurately, his parent’s house. Millais was a student at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he met the 20 year old poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the painter William Holman Hunt. The three friends were romantic idealists in the way that all art students should be, and in their minds art was at it’s most pure when it came from the heart — before all that show-offy Mannerism kicked off at the end of the High Renaissance.

To the Pre Raphaelites, the bright colors, crisp lines, honorable men and demure women of late medieval and early renaissance art was the most sincere and noble form of painting. Their imperative was moral — to throw back to a peaceful time before the industrialization and social unrest of 1800’s Europe. In their early meetings, the group laid out four principles to guide them in a quest to bring Romanticism back to art. The principles were:

  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
  • most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

So why does history remember the preoccupation of a few emotional art students? Quite simply, because they were fantastic at public relations. Starting in 1849, all three artists showed their work at the Royal Academy, and signed their paintings with the initials PRB. The next year they started a magazine called The Germ, which was a collection of mostly terrible, lovelorn poetry — but print sticks, and to this day you can read their musings on death, loneliness and beauty. Indeed their exposure, if not always positive, grew faster than they were ready for. The famous author Charles Dickens hated their work, and blasted Millais’ painting ‘Christ in the House of His Parents’ for being blasphemous and ugly. And after his initial praise, the PRB lost the support of noted art critic John Ruskin after Millais effectively stole Ruskin’s wife.

Like a band that make it big before it’s ready for fame, the PRB effectively disbanded by 1853. But their dreamy, lovelorn style had struck a chord, and other artists, including Edward Burne-Jones and Thomas Woolner would continue the style, which would eventually influence artists like Gustave Moreau and the soon-to-be Symbolist movement.

Reed Enger, "Pre Raphaelites, Love-lorn teenagers drag art back to the future," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 18, 2015; last modified July 21, 2019,

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More terrible poems by the Pre-Raphaelite boyband/brotherhood.

The Germ, Vol.2

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Woolner,

Self Portrait

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1847


John Everett Millais, 1849

The Childhood of Mary Virgin

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1849

Christ in the House of His Parents

John Everett Millais, 1849-1850

The Annunciation

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

Bad love poems and teenage pontification

The Germ, Vol.1

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, 1850

A Huguenot on St Bartholomew's Day

John Everett Millais, 1852


John Everett Millais, 1851-1852

The Awakening Conscience

William Holman Hunt, 1853

The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro

William Holman Hunt, 1847-1857

Babylon hath been a golden cup

Simeon Solomon, 1859


Simeon Solomon, 1859

Theseus and the Minotaur

Edward Burne-Jones, 1861

Angel of the Resurrection: Cartoon for Stained Glass

William Morris, 1862

Guinevere and Iseult: Cartoon for Stained Glass

William Morris, 1862

Dante’s First Meeting with Beatrice

Simeon Solomon, 1859-1863

The Merciful Knight

Edward Burne-Jones, 1863

A young female musician

Emma Sandys, 1864

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene

Simeon Solomon, 1864


Emma Sandys, c. 1862-1865


Emma Sandys, 1865

Il Dolce far Niente

William Holman Hunt, 1866

A Prelude by Bach

Simeon Solomon, 1868


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1868

Venus Verticordia

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863-1868


William Holman Hunt, 1868-1869

Pastoral Lovers

Simeon Solomon, 1869

Phyllis and Demophoon

Edward Burne-Jones, 1870

Rabbi Carrying the Law

Simeon Solomon, 1871

The Bower Meadow

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1872

Lady Lilith

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866-1873

Mary Emma Jones

Emma Sandys, 1874

Sancta Lilias

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874

The angel with the serpent

Evelyn De Morgan, 1870-1875

The Beguiling of Merlin

Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-1877

The Love Song

Edward Burne-Jones, 1868-1877

Night and Sleep

Evelyn De Morgan, 1878

Pygmalion and the Image — The Godhead Fires

Edward Burne-Jones, 1878

Pygmalion and the Image — The Heart Desires

Edward Burne-Jones, 1878

The Day Dream (Study)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1878

Fiammetta Singing

Marie Spartali Stillman, 1879

The Annunciation

Edward Burne-Jones, 1879

The Golden Stairs

Edward Burne-Jones, 1876-1880

Portrait of Lady Frances Balfour

Edward Burne-Jones, 1881

The Angel of Death

Evelyn De Morgan, 1881


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882

Portrait of Georgiana Burne Jones

Edward Burne-Jones, 1883

The Wheel of Fortune

Edward Burne-Jones, 1883

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid

Edward Burne-Jones, 1880-1884
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