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Pre-Raphaelite Art – Virtual Tour

A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Art

Pre-Raphaelite Art – Virtual Tour

The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.

The group rejected what it considered the mechanistic approach adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from life and literature. They often used historical costumes for accuracy.

A Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

Frederick Sandys

Frank Dicksee

John Collier

William Dyce

Arthur Hughes

Pre-Raphaelite Art Objects

Highlights Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896) was a Victorian-era English painter who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his home in London.


“Isabella” by John Everett Millais depicts a scene in the relationship between Isabella, the sister of wealthy merchants, and their poor apprentice Lorenzo.

It shows the moment at which Isabella’s jealous brothers realize that there is a romance between the two young people. The brothers later plot to murder Lorenzo so they can marry Isabella to a wealthy nobleman.

The painting illustrates an episode from a 1300s story which was reprised by John Keats in poem form.

In the painting, Isabella is being handed a blood orange on a plate by the doomed Lorenzo, signifying the later spilling of Lorenzo’s blood.

Christ in the House of His Parents

“Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Milla depicts the Holy Family in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The painting centers on the young Jesus, who has cut his hand while assisting Joseph in his workshop.

The composition has a plethora of symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject. The most interesting aspect of this painting was how controversial it was when it was first exhibited.

It received many negative reviews because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor.

The portrayal of the Holy Family, in the painting, was in dramatic contrast to the general view of Jesus and his mother, traditionally represented in Roman togas and traditional costumes.

The Martyr of Solway

“The Martyr of Solway” by John Everett Millais portrays Margaret Wilson (1667 – 1685), who was a young Scottish teenager, of the Scottish Presbyterian movement.

Margaret Wilson was executed by drowning for refusing to swear an oath declaring James VII (James II of England) as head of the church.

Wilson was executed along with Margaret McLachlan. However, Wilson became the more famous of the two women because of her youth; she was about 18 years of age at the time of her death.

As a teenager, her faith in the face of death became celebrated as part of the martyrology of Presbyterian churches. They believed that no man, not even a king, could be the spiritual head of their church.


“Ophelia” by John Everett Millais depicts Ophelia, a character in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. This scene is described in a speech by Queen Gertrude.

Ophelia is singing while floating in a river before she drowns. This Pre-Raphaelite work was not highly regarded when first exhibited at the Royal Academy.

However, it has since come to be hugely admired, popular, and influential for its beauty and its detailed and accurate depiction.

The episode depicted in this painting is not portrayed on a theatre stage but is described in the play.

Ophelia’s death has been praised as one of the most poetically written death scenes in literature. Ophelia has fallen into the river from a tree overhanging it while gathering flowers.

She lies in the water singing songs, as if unaware of her danger. The trapped air in her clothes allowed her to stay afloat temporarily but eventually led to her death.

Blow Blow Thou Wind

“Blow Blow Thou Wind” by John Everett Millais depicts a winter landscape with a hapless dog at the center, with divided loyalty between the stranded mother with her child, and the man who is walking away. Which will the loyal dog pick?

The mother is seated on a rock in the snow. She has her shawl pulled over her head to keep the wind and cold from her child as it feeds. In the distance, the child’s father is walking away.

The poem below provides a clue. Is the man abandoning the family of going ahead to search for food and shelter?

The Black Brunswicker

The Black Brunswicker by John Everett Millais was inspired by the exploits of the Black Brunswickers, a German volunteer corps of the Napoleonic Wars, during the Waterloo campaign.

Millais depicts a Brunswicker about to depart for battle. His sweetheart, wearing a ballgown, restrains him, trying to push the door closed, while he pulls it open.

This scene was imagined to have occurred during a ball, that took place on 15 June 1815, from which the officers departed to join troops at the Battle of Quatre Bras.

The artist has expertly contrasted the officer’s black broadcloth and the lady’s pearl-white satin in a moment of tender conflict.

A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford

A Dream of the Past: Sir Isumbras at the Ford by John Everett Millais depicts an aged medieval knight helping two young peasant children over a river. The peasant children are carrying wood for winter fuel.

The title of the painting refers to the medieval poem Sir Isumbras and his good deeds. When first exhibited, the painting was extremely controversial and was attacked by many critics.

The theme of the Christian Chivalry was a topical one at the time, and Millais was also influenced by Albrecht Dürer’s print, The Knight, Death, and the Devil.

Despite its first negative reception, the painting inspired several other images of chivalric knights.

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career.

Our English Coasts

“Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt depicts a flock of sheep lining the picturesque coast of Sussex. The scenic location is on the cliffs at Fairlight Glen, beside Covehust Bay near Hastings, which is called the Lovers’ Seat.

Hunt worked en plein air at the location depicted in late 1852, despite cold and rainy weather. Hunt has paid scrupulous attention to natural detail and painted in many layers, with brilliant colors.

The painting combines features from different vantage points, with butterflies added in the studio modeled from life.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil

“Isabella and the Pot of Basil” by William Holman Hunt depicts a scene from John Keats’s poem “Isabella.”

The poem tells the tale of a young woman whose family intends to marry her to “some high noble and his olive trees.”

However, Isabella falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers’ employees. When the brothers learn of this, they murder Lorenzo and bury his body.

Lorenzo’s ghost then informs Isabella in a dream. Isabella exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil, which she then tends to obsessively while pining away in her room. 

Self-portrait William Holman Hunt

Self-portrait by William Holman Hunt depicts the famous Pre-Raphaelite artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite School.

Hunt’s works were not initially successful and were widely attacked in the art press. He achieved some early note for his intensely naturalistic scenes of modern rural and urban life, however, it was for his religious paintings that he became famous.

In the mid-1850s Hunt traveled to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works.

Hunt also painted many works based on poems. Hunt remained true to their ideals the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, throughout his career. 

Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids

“A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids” by William Holman Hunt depicts an episode from early British Christian history, portraying a family helping an injured priest.

Hunt’s painting shows an ancient Christian family of Britons occupying a crudely constructed hut by the riverside. They are carrying for a missionary who is hiding from a mob of pagan British Celts who are outside the shelter.

A Druid is visible in the background on the left, pointing towards another missionary, on the far right who is being chased by the mob. The Christian family is hiding a priest from a crowd of heathens and Druids.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) was a British poet, illustrator, painter, and translator.

He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

Lady Lilith

“Lady Lilith” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicts Lilith, who is a figure from Jewish mythology and is portrayed as an iconic, Amazon-like female with long, flowing hair.

The name ‘Lilith’ is derived from the Babylonian Talmud. It refers to a dangerous demon of the night, associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children.

The character is thought to have been derived from the stories of female demons in ancient Mesopotamian religion, found in the cuneiform texts of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, and Babylonia.

Rossetti first painted this artwork using Fanny Cornforth as the model; he then altered the painting to show the face of another model, Alexa Wilding.

Rossetti overpainted Cornforth’s face, after the success of his picture of “Sibylla Palmifera,” in which Wilding is the model and because he was starting a relationship with Fanny Cornforth.

Dante’s Dream

“Dante’s Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicts Dante’s dream in which he is led to the death-bed of Beatrice Portinari. Beatrice was the object of his unfulfilled love.

Dante, in black, stands rigid and paralyzed, looking towards the dying Beatrice who is lying on a bed. Two female figures in green hold a canopy over her. An angel in red holds Dante’s hand and leans forward to kiss Beatrice.

The artist, Rossetti, had a lifelong passion for the works of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri.

This painting was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova when Dante dreams of seeing Beatrice in death. Rossetti, in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, created a work full of complex symbols.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Self Portrait

Self Portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicts the young artist at age 18. He drew this self-portrait when he was a student at the Royal Academy.

Rossetti has captured the rebellious and romantic self-image he had of himself.

Rosetti would go on to become the founder of a new artistic and poetic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Museum: National Portrait Gallery, London

The Beloved

“The Beloved” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was inspired by the biblical “Song of Solomon.” It tells the story of a young woman preparing to marry.

The bride is depicted moving back her veil, while her eyes are fixed directly on the viewer. She is attended by four bridesmaids and an African page child, holding roses.

The bridal party all contrasts strikingly with the red hair and pale skin of the bride. They have varying shades of brunette hair and darker skin tones. This color contrast was carefully painted as a frame to the bride’s features.

Rossetti visited Manet while working on this painting, and the controversial painting Olympia by Édouard Manet influenced this composition. 

Commentators suggest that Rossetti is celebrating beauty and diversity. Others see it as imposing white standards of beauty, positioning the bride as superior due to the color of her skin.

Bocca Baciata

“Bocca Baciata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicts a beautiful Saracen princess who, despite having relationships on numerous occasions with eight separate lovers in the space of four years, successfully presents herself to the King of the Algarve as his virgin bride.

The title means “mouth that has been kissed.” The title refers to an Italian proverb, which Rossetti wrote on the back of the painting: “The mouth that has been kissed does not lose its good fortune: rather, it renews itself just as the moon does.”

The proverb comes from the conclusion of Alatiel’s story.

Rossetti was a translator of early Italian literature, and he knew the proverb from Boccaccio’s book called Decameron.

The Decameron, also nicknamed “the Human Comedy,” is a collection of novellas by the 14th-century Italian Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375).

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini

“Paolo and Francesca da Rimini” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti tells the tragic story of the lovers, Paolo and Francesca.

The story is from Dante’s Inferno and was a popular subject with artists and sculptors beginning in the late 18th Century. Rossetti’s composition is divided into three parts.

Rossetti’s real name was Charles Gabriel Dante Rossetti, but his admiration for the great Florentine poet led him to change it to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Throughout his life, Rossetti was fascinated by stories of tragic lovers and illicit love. The subject of this painting is taken from Dante Alighieri’s most famous work, Inferno, Canto V.

This painting is a small watercolor triptych executed in the medievalist style of this period in Rossetti’s art.

The Day Dream

“The Day Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was initially intended to be named Monna Primavera and depicts his lover and muse Jane Morris posed in a seated position on the bough of a sycamore tree.

She holds a small stem of honeysuckle in her hand, a token of love in the Victorian era. It symbolized the secret affair Rossetti was immersed in with Jane Morris at the time. She was the model for several of Rossetti’s well-known paintings.

This painting is one of Rossetti’s last and one of his few full-length depictions during this time of his career. The painting is signed “D. Rossetti 1880” on the lower right.

The scene is a representation of a woman in a green silk dress, shaded by the canopy of the sycamore tree’s leaves. All around her, the tree branches are depicted as if they want to embrace her.

The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice

“The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti shows Dante morning the Death of Beatrice, who was the object of his unfulfilled love.

The artist, Rossetti, had a lifelong passion for the works of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and this watercolor from 1853 is an essential picture in the art history of the period.

This painting was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova. This picture references the scene in the Vita Nuova where Dante Alighieri writes that:

“I set myself again to mine occupation, to wit, to the drawing figures of angels: in doing which, I conceived of writing of this matter in rhyme, as for her anniversary.”

Rossetti, in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, created a work full of complex symbols.

John William Waterhouse

Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) worked in the Pre-Raphaelite style, several decades after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Euphrosyne Spartali, later Stillman, was a British painter of Greek descent. She was the most celebrated female artist of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Ford Madox Brown

Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893) was a French-born British painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic Pre-Raphaelite style.

Henry Holiday

Henry Holiday (1839 – 1927) was an English historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator, and sculptor. He was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.

Edward Burne-Jones

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898) was an English artist and designer. He was closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Burne-Jones’s early paintings show the considerable inspiration of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but by the 1860s, Burne-Jones was discovering his artistic style.

Frederick Sandys

Frederick Sandys (1829 – 1904) was an English painter and illustrator associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and with the Norwich School of painters.

Sandys specialized in half-length figures of beautiful but often destructive women. Sandys’s meticulous attention to detail is typical of the Pre-Raphaelite school.

Frank Dicksee

John Collier

William Dyce

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

They created a distinct name for their art and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

Later, the medievalist influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

John Ruskin had influenced the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to painting from nature and depicting nature in exquisite detail.

John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, watercolorist, a prominent social thinker, and philanthropist.

The brotherhood’s early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:

  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, to know how to express the ideas;
  • 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
  • the most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The principles were deliberately non-dogmatic since the brotherhood wished to emphasize the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their ideas and methods of depiction.

Influenced by Romanticism, the members thought freedom and responsibility were inseparable.

They believed that art was essentially spiritual, opposing their idealism to the materialist realism associated with Impressionism.

Quotes about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement


“Better by far, you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”
– Christina Rossetti


“The past is not dead; it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
– William Morris


“All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.”
– John Ruskin


“The greatest foe to art is luxury; art cannot live in its atmosphere.”
– William Morris


“The greatest foe to art is luxury; art cannot live in its atmosphere.”
– William Morris


“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin


“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
– William Morris


“Better by far, you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”
– Christina Rossetti


“Paint the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.”
– John Ruskin


“History has remembered the kings and warriors because they destroyed; art has remembered the people because they created.”
– William Morris


“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
– John Ruskin


“If you cannot learn to love real art, at least learn to hate sham art’.
– William Morris


“The more materialistic science becomes, the more angels shall I paint. Their wings are my protest in favor of the immortality of the soul.”
– Edward Burne-Jones


“The artist has done nothing till he has concealed himself — the art is imperfect which is visible-the feelings are but feebly touched if they permit us to reason on the methods of their excitement.”
– John Ruskin


“I love art, and I love history, but it is living art and living history that I love.”
– William Morris


“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”
– William Morris


“When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.”
– Christina Rossetti


“Love, which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart, seized this man for the fair form that was taken from me. The manner still hurts me. Love which absolves no beloved one from loving, seized me so strongly with his charm that, as thou sees, it does not leave me yet.”
– Dante Gabriel Rossetti


“He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;”
– Christina Rossetti


“The term ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ is in danger of becoming one of the most misused tags in art history.”
– Christopher Wood


What is: Pre-Raphaelite?

The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Revolutionaries

The Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Revolutionaries – 2


“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin


Photo Credit: John William Waterhouse [Public domain]

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