2,573 artworks, 31 artists
England, 1848. A student at the Royal Academy of Arts, Dante Rossetti, at an exhibition organized by the Academy, gets acquainted with Holman Hunt, whose paintings he came to admire. Friendship is established between the two artists. They communicate a lot, share their ideas and thoughts. Hunt’s support and friendly instructions helped Rossetti to finish a canvas entitled “The Youth of the Virgin Mary”, on which he was then working.

Soon, John Millais, an unusually talented young painter who was admitted to the academy at the age of 11, joined the friends. Besides their love of art, the three were united by the opinion that English painting needed to be revived as the oppression of patterns, conventions and academism had led to a dead end. The friends considered a return to the ideas of Italian art of the Early Renaissance as the most acceptable way. So they organized the Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites, a secret community of artists whose members were inspired by the works of painters preceding Raphael (hence the name Pre-Raphaelites, that is, before Raphael): Giovanni Bellini, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Perugino, etc.

The art of the Pre-Raphaelite artists was based on the principles of naturalness: they created their paintings from life, and their models were their friends and close relatives. In addition, they opposed the established methods of painting and used a drawing technique that was radically different from the generally accepted one.

The first two years were the most difficult for the Brotherhood. The artists and their works were mercilessly criticized: for example, around the canvas “Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Millais, 1850, a real scandal erupted, which caught the attention of Queen Victoria. A little later, members of the Brotherhood organized their own exhibition, but not a single painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artists was sold. The press published several devastating articles (Charles Dickens was the author of one of them), and it seemed that everything had crumbled.

The situation was saved by an art critic John Ruskin, who was respected in society. He praised the works displayed at the exhibition and called them the beginning of a new direction in painting, which would become the foundation for new English art for at least 300 years. Ruskin’s support radically changed the public attitude towards the Pre-Raphaelites: their paintings became successful at exhibitions; the Brotherhood was spoken about in newspapers and weekly magazines. This continued until 1853, when the Brotherhood disintegrated. Its members continued to paint in a new style, introducing elements of eroticism and making a cult of the artistic genius and beauty of the world around.

Today, many paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists adorn art galleries and museums. Among them are “Medea” by Evelyn de Morgan (Art Gallery and Williamson Museum), “The Beautiful Isolde” by William Morris (Tate Gallery), “Lady Lilith” by Rossetti (Delaware Museum of Art) and others.