Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Art Movement: History, Artists, Artwork

pre-raphaelite brotherhood art movementThe rigid rules of classical art and the social unrest emerging due to widespread industrialization created the conditions for a rebellious group of young British artists to express their discontentment. The English Pre Raphaelite painters formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) in 1848. The Pre Raphaelite vision was to convey a new spiritual seriousness and sincerity in their works in opposition to what they perceived as the artificial and uninspired historical paintings of the British Royal Academy.

Characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood art include: vivid detail, symbolism, and tight brushstrokes. Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood believed in recreating the techniques and ideas of Renaissance and Medieval art and questioned the principles of classical Victorian art. They continued to accept that the principles of mimesis, or imitation of nature, and history painting were essential components of art’s intended function.

Three Royal Academy students, all under the age of 25, who were also talented young painters and poets, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, came together to form the movement. They were joined by the critic William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel’s brother), the painter James Collinson, the writer Frederic George Stephens, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, and the painter James Collinson. The artists Ford Madox Brown and William Dyce, who served in part as mentors to the younger men, eventually adapted their work to the Pre-Raphaelite style.

Pre-Raphaelite works include: “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais, “Bocca Baciata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Awakening Conscience” by William Holman Hunt, “Dante’s Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and “Christ in the House with his Parents” by John Millais. Among other women, Elizabeth Siddal and Jane Morris served as female models for Pre-Raphaelite art.

Their adoption of the name Pre-Raphaelite expressed the artists admiration for what they saw as the straightforward depiction of nature typical of Italian painting before the High Renaissance and, in particular, before the time of Raphael. They were inspired by Italian art from the 14th and 15th centuries. The pre Raphaelite painting techniques entailed painting with pure colors over a brilliant white ground.

Although the Brotherhood was active for only around five years (1853), it significantly impacted British painting and, ultimately, decorative arts and interior design. They thought artists before the Renaissance offered a model for representing nature and the human body realistically rather than idealistically. The collective guilds of medieval craftspeople provided an alternative aspiration of the artistic community to approaches taken by mid-19th-century academics.

History of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Beginnings: 1848

In early 19th-century Britain, numerous major events connected to Romanticism gave rise to the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. The first was a response to industrialization, which began to take off in earnest in the late 18th century and, by the 1830s, had made Britain by far the most mechanically and technologically advanced country in the world. Romantic critics looked for ways to reveal these shifts and improve things because government regulation had fallen behind these rapid developments.

In the conservative Royal Academy, the Italian High Renaissance was prized in the British art community. Joshua Reynolds, a painter who was a massive admirer of the High Renaissance and, in particular, the Italian Raphael, founded the Royal Academy in 1768. The Royal Academy encouraged artists to idealize their characters in the attire and classical settings reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome, a practice known as the Grand Manner. The Royal Academy also championed genre and portrait painting (the latter being Reynolds’ specialization).

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434) and Lorenzo Monaco’s San Benedetto Altarpiece were two “primitive” masterpieces that the newly founded National Gallery in London purchased in the 1840s that would enhance the reputation of early Renaissance art (1407-9). Although the painting and the altarpiece are significantly distinct from one another, they exhibit exceptional attention to detail and a love for vivid color. The subtle symbolism, natural light representations, and intensely realized surfaces and textures of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait were specific points of admiration for the artists who would later become the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Romantic movement, with its emphasis on the landscape, was a response against the Grand Manner and classical ideals. The artwork of John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, and J.M.W. Turner was also quite successful in diverting attention from unpleasant cityscapes. With the advent of industrialization, the rural and agricultural lifestyles were quickly disappearing, and the Romantics painted a wistful picture of these aspects of life as well as the humbling influence of nature on the human form.

John Ruskin, a well-known art critic, supported the Romantics and defended Turner’s originality in Modern Painters (1843–1846) by stating that artists should commit themselves to the realities discovered through the observation of nature. Ruskin compared Turner’s creative Naturalism and light effects with the “vulgarity” and “insipid repetition” of most academic painting.

Rise and Development of Pre Raphaelite art movement- 1849-1852

After the first three pioneer artists, more young artists and poets joined the group. William Michael Rossetti, Frederic George Stephens, James Collinson, and Thomas Woolner are more Pre-Raphaelites. The Pre-Raphaelites functioned like a secret society. Several paintings were displayed in 1849 at London’s Royal Academy, and Free Exhibition displays the mysterious letters “P.R.B.” alongside the artists’ signatures. The PRB rejected the excessive use of bitumen, in contrast to earlier British artists like Joshua Reynolds and David Wilke. The art movement held that modern and societal issues might be solved by combining poetry, literature, religion, fine art, and other genres.

The Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ was founded by the brotherhood and was given that name because it was meant to be a seed or flower that would spread and increase its influence throughout the art. Book reviews, poetry, and witty commentary about the arts were all featured in The Germ. The Brotherhood’s early doctrines were just four declarations which included: To possess and express genuine ideas; To study nature attentively to understand better how to convey them; To empathize with what is straightforward, genuine, and sincere in previous art instead of what is formulaic, self-parodying, and learned by rote; And most important, of all, is to create thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The Brotherhood enthusiastically accepted and supported Pre Raphaelite women artists, in contrast to the Academy, where women had not yet been admitted. Women such as Emma Sandys (1843–77), Ford Madox Brown (1821-93), Joanna Mary Wells (1831–61), Evelyn de Morgan (1855–1919), and Marie Spartali Stillman (1844-1927) were welcomed into the Pre-Raphaelites’ inner circle .

The image shows Madonna Petra Degli Scrovegni, an artwork by Spartali Stillman, who was a woman, pre-Raphaelite painter.

Madonna Pietra - Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Madonna Pietra – Dante Gabriel Rossetti


The Pre-Raphaelites disliked formulaic academic art and amassed supporters like art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900). John Ruskin became their most supportive critic, while Charles Dickens pushed back against them. Ruskin liked the earnest and sincere nature of the art and realism that the Pre-Raphaelites supported. The public did not respond well to Pre-Raphaelite paintings because they thought the characters were ugly, for example Millais’s “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.” In the image, Millais created a sickly-looking flame-haired Mary, who the devout Victorians saw as blasphemous as it altered the “perfect” image of the Virgin Mary.

The painting below is The Girlhood of Mary Virgin which Victorians saw a blasphemous:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - The Girlhood of Mary Virgin
Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Girlhood of Mary Virgin


The End of Pre Raphaelite: 1853

John Everett Millais personally contributed to the Brotherhood’s dissolution through his work, in addition to helping Ruskin withdraw his support. Christ at the House of His Parents, a new painting by Millais displayed in 1850, garnered criticism for blaspheming the Virgin Mary from various quarters, including author Charles Dickens. Critics called Mary, whom Millais based on his sister-in-law, “ugly,” implying that it was immoral to show her as anything less than an idealized, beautiful woman and to present the Holy Family as common and underprivileged.

Following this dispute, James Collinson departed the group, but the remaining members remained undecided and abstained from further joint public performances. The Brotherhood was officially dissolved in 1853 after Thomas Woolner relocated to Australia and Millais obtained membership in the Royal Academy, the organization the Brotherhood had criticized. Even though the original Brotherhood only existed for about five years, the word “Pre-Raphaelite” persisted and was widely used in Britain for many years.

Characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood art include vivid detail, symbolism, and tight brushstrokes. The looser style influenced by Sir Joshua Reynolds and other members of the Royal Academy was rejected by the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Instead, works that resembled medieval art were produced using Pre-Raphaelite painting techniques.

Vivid Detail and Bright Colors.

The paintings’ extremely fine detail and vivid, vibrant colors gave their surface a jewel-like aspect. Hunt and Millais painted over a wet white backdrop with delicate glazes. The brushstrokes were skillfully concealed, which improved the scene’s clarity. The PRB rejected the excessive use of bitumen, in contrast to earlier British artists like Joshua Reynolds and David Wilke. Artists had started using bitumen, a semi-solid type of petroleum, to make the hazy backgrounds of their paintings.


Victorian Britain explored social issues like the social class system, poverty, working conditions, emigration, and women’s place in society in many of PRB’s paintings. The latter, in particular, was a major theme in the Pre-Raphaelites’ artwork. In contrast, Victorian society viewed women as inferior to males on both a physical and intellectual level. The Pre Raphaelites centered their art on women and the hardships they faced. By frequently employing a medieval backdrop, the artists drew attention to societal issues, like adultery and prostitution, where women were primarily marginalized.

Tight Brushstrokes

The utmost objectivity in their representations of nature was one of the earliest Pre-Raphaelite objectives. Therefore, using precise brushstrokes was vital rather than choosing a polished aesthetic. It added realism to mythical stories that their audiences were already familiar with.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Members

The pre Raphaelite school members include: Dante Gabriel Rossetti,  William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais,  William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson and Frederic George.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


  • Born: 12 May 1828 London, England
  • Died: 9 April 1882 (aged 53) Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England
  • Occupation: Poet, illustrator, painter
  • Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites, Romanticism, Aesthetic Art, Naturalism

British painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti is remembered by history as a brilliant but outspoken nonconformist who first gained recognition as a Pre-Raphaelite founding member. The Brotherhood sought theological instruction and inspiration in medieval art as a response to the “decadent” indulgences of the time. The Brotherhood followed rigid puritanical and artistic norms, which Rossetti quickly became weary of, rather than creating dramatic historical narratives (as was the vogue at the time). Rossetti reflected on a time before the High Renaissance.

Although Dante Gabriel Rossetti, yearned to be acknowledged as a poet and a painter, he continued to create his mythical parables with the same brilliance and attention to the smallest picture detail, he became completely engrossed in the idea of female beauty. Although criticized by many of his peers, his licentious lifestyle gave his art a true individuality. But over time, his destructive habits caused his mental health to deteriorate. Still, as is frequently the case, this furthers his reputation as a brilliant maverick of the Victorian era. Some of the major artworks he produced include: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849), Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850), Bocca Baciata (1859), and Stained Glass Panel No.4 in Rossetti’s St George and the Dragon sequence, for Morris & Co. (c 1862).

Rossetti’s designs provide a visible link between the Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood and Arts and Crafts movement of William Morris , even though he quickly lost interest in decorative arts and his relationship with William Morris worsened. Rossetti had intended to give up art in his latter years and pursue his dream of becoming a poet in the tradition of his literary heroes, Dante (after whom he took his name), Byron, and Keats. However, his published collection was criticized for being overly verbose by critics.

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt


  • Born: 2 April 1827 London, England
  • Died: 7 September 1910 (aged 83) London, England
  • Occupation: Painter
  • Movements: The Pre-Raphaelites, Orientalism, Naturalism

William Holman Hunt first rose to prominence as one of the three Brotherhood founders. He questioned what they perceived as the decadence and deceit behind the era’s vogue for dramatic historical narratives along with contemporaries John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Although the Brotherhood only existed for about five years, Hunt upheld its ideals throughout his extensive career. Hunt was a devout Christian who meticulously paid attention to picture detail. He often used real locales, many of them in the Middle East, to recreate biblical parables and ceremonies in his paintings. Hunt, influenced by John Ruskin’s works, believed in the idea of spiritual truth and shared Ruskin’s view that the artist’s role was to accurately portray reality while utilizing art to maintain and advance morality. After a string of impressive artistic successes, Hunt was lured by the notion that he was endowed with divine brilliance.

Willian Holman Hunt was praised (and criticized) for the way he presented biblical stories and medieval subjects with an unapologetically realistic style in his canvases, which are frequently distinguished by the liveliness of their lighting and color. In reaction to his detractors, Hunt would produce a series of articles in which he pushed a steadfast defense of the Brotherhood’s goals and, in fact, his leading position as principal in its establishment and development. These pieces were written in a tone of unabashed self-promotion.

Some of the major artworks William Holman Hunt produced include: The Awakening Conscience (1853), The Light of the World (1853), The Thames at Chelsea, Evening (1853),The Scapegoat (1854) and The Shadow of Death (1870-73). He had toured the Holy Land for some of his most well-known works to give his religious narratives present-day veracity. He also believed that each artist was responsible for advancing moral principles through their work, particularly in these times of excellent scientific knowledge. Even while his heartfelt stories were laced with Christian symbolism, their earthly geographical staging gave them great veracity.

John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais


  • Born: 8 June 1829 Southampton, Hampshire, England
  • Died: 13 August 1896 (aged 67) Kensington, London, England
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Painting, Drawing, Printmaking
  • Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites, Aesthetic Art, Realism, Romanticism

After establishing himself as a bone-fide child genius, John Everett Millais would start a career that allowed him to experience domestic and worldwide acclaim over his lifetime. As a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, he joined a close-knit group of artists, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. He was a devout young man who painted with an almost fetishistic attention to detail. His early works displayed a particularly audacious representation of holy figures in his religious parables as ordinary people in standard natural settings.

John Everette Millais made the group more well-known and credible to the general public. He accomplished this by depicting various swoon-worthy scenes in his paintings against the backdrop of actual political happenings. These historical works, written with meticulous attention to detail, were also highly regarded for their ability to effectively convey the emotions of their female protagonists. Millais would later shift to the idea of the female in nature, represented via a more ornate technique, in a departure from his uncompromising dedication to realism. These paintings were viewed as profound musings on the concepts of beauty, youth, and the passing of time. The works proved to be important transitional ones that saw Millais’s influence start to widen by directly impacting the Aesthetic movement even though they offended influential critics and supporters of the movement, John Ruskin, for example.

John Everett Millais visited Scotland to create several significant landscapes for his mature works. His earlier attention to detail was lacking in these pieces; instead, the artist focused on using his palette to explore a variety of emotional effects. The variety in his paintings, which saw him create pictures ranging from great drama to calm melancholy, set John Millais’s works apart from those of other landscape painters. Parallel to his landscape painting, Millais also developed a strong reputation as a portrait painter. On the one hand, loosely associated artists, Rembrandt and Velazquez were compared to him because of how his “unfussy” mature portraits of his subjects—many of whom held high positions in government—captured their strength and modesty. He also created several touching and highly effective pictures of small children, breaking new ground in the transition between fine art and mass production.

Major artworks by Millias include: Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop) (1849-50), Ophelia (1851-52), A Huguenot, on St Bartholomew’s Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge (1851-52), The Order of Release, 1746 (1852-53) and Autumn Leaves (1855-56).

William Michael Rossetti

William Michael Rossetti


  • Born: 25 September 1829, London, United Kingdom
  • Died: 5 February 1919, London, United Kingdom
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Art critic, Painting, printmaking, Literary Editor
  • Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites

William Michael Rossetti is a significant character in the history of Pre-Raphaelitism, and is most remembered for his work as an art critic, author, and literary editor. His calm and collected demeanor, financial restraint, and lack of egotism set him apart from his more flamboyant brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, even as a young child.

William Michael edited the Brotherhood’s journal, The Germ, and kept the group’s diary. He wrote D.G. Rossetti: A Memoir with Family Letters (1895) and edited the collected works of Christina (1904) and Dante Gabriel (1911).   In books like Pre Raphaelite Letters and Diaries (1900) and Ruskin, Rossetti, Pre Raphaelitism: Papers 1854-62, he meticulously handled a mountain of family correspondence and information about Pre Raphaelism and his brother’s role in the movement, establishing himself as an essential chronicler (1899).

As a perceptive and independent-minded critic, William Michael Rosetti praised Walt Whitman’s contentious Leaves of Grass (1855) as a masterpiece. He introduced the poet to British readers in 1868 with a collection of his poems. Additionally, he produced studies of Dante and other medieval poets in Italian and English, was a longtime admirer of William Blake and published an edition of his Poetical Works in 1874.

William Rossetti had some artistic training; fortunately, some of his sketches remain. He engaged in creative activities during his training, creating designs, replicas of previous works, and, most notably, portraits. About a dozen of William’s few remaining photographs show his genuine human compassion, his appreciation of beauty even in simplicity, and his unflinching lack of romanticism. Compared to what Pre-Raphaelite commentators have ventured to find or acknowledge, William’s drawings are much more numerous and diverse. They are essential because they demonstrate that the discerning reviewer was also an active artist, at least in his formative years.

William Michael Rosetti’s pencil, pen, and ink portrait drawings, especially those of his family and his artistic acquaintances from the Pre-Raphaelite circle, are unquestionably some of his best creations. They provide evidence of his technical prowess and sincere reaction to many people. While many are laborious and unprofessional, some are pretty skilled. While it appears that not all of these sketches have survived, his depiction of a young John Everette Millais, which is currently in a private Australian collection, is undoubtedly the greatest. Another of his best works is a pen-and-ink drawing of Holman Hunt that he created and is dated around 1854. If he made this drawing around 1854, it was probably done in the first few days of January in anticipation of Hunt’s upcoming departure on January 13 for his first trip to the Middle East. It is a relatively good painting of Hunt that shows excellent resourcefulness and a deft touch.

Although William Michael Rosetti lacked the talent necessary to pursue a career as a professional artist, his understanding of the creative process he obtained from his artistic training was very helpful in his later work as an art critic. William had acquired practical and theoretical knowledge of contemporary art due to his connection with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which would be essential to him in his position as an art critic.

James Collinson

James Collinson


  • Born: 9 May 1825
  • Died: 24 January 1881
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Painting, printmaking, Literary Editor
  • Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites, Victorian art

James Collinson joined the PRB in 1848 as one of its founding members but quit in 1850 because he believed it conflicted with his Roman Catholic beliefs. In 1852, he started his studies to become a Roman Catholic priest. After another change of heart, he resumed painting in 1854, focusing on delicate and emotional genre themes, the most well-known of which is The Empty Purse of 1857. (versions in Britain, London, and Graves AG, Sheffield). His capacity to fall asleep at any time was the most impressive skill he displayed throughout their sessions. He is likely a well-known minor member of the PRB.

Too Hot, James Collinson (British, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, 1825–1881 Camberwell), Color wood engraving
Too Hot, from “Illustrated London News”, After James Collinson (British, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, 1825–1881 Camberwell), Color wood engraving

The artist had moved back to London, got married, and started painting more traditional genre subjects by the time he created “Too Hot, from, Illustrated London News” in the 1860s. The story revolves around a grandfather giving a little child a hot tea and contains many poignant insights about the nature of country living. The work, created using numerous Leighton Brothers woodblocks, was published by the “Illustrated London News” as a special Christmas supplement for subscribers.


Frederic George Stephens

Frederic George Stephens


  • Born: October 1827
  • Died: 9 March 1907
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Art Critic, Painting, Drawing, Writing.
  • Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites

Frederic George Stephens was a founder member of the movement who modeled for many of their works. He enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools of Art in 1844, when he met Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. In the early 1850s, Stephens displayed portraits of his mother and father at R A yearly shows, but he quickly gave up painting to become an art critic.

Frederic George was a prolific author who, starting in 1861, served as the Athenaeum’s regular art critic. He also wrote for The Germ, the Critic, the London Review, the Dublin University Review, Macmillan’s Magazine, Weldon’s Register, the Portfolio, and other American and French publications.

Stephens, who had been one of William Hunt’s closest friends for a long time and had done everything in his power to enhance his career, broke off his friendship in the 1880s. It was after the two had grown distant over his role in making life challenging for the artist with The Triumph of the Innocents. Among Stephens’ publications are a four-volume inventory of prints and drawings in the British Museum and the uncredited William Holman Hunt and His Work (1860), which he produced to accompany the exhibition of The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1870-83).

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Artwork

The major PRB artworks include: Ophelia, The Lady of Shalott, Lady Lilith, Proserpine, and Boreas. Tate Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery on Merseyside, and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery all have significant Pre-Raphaelite collections. Outside of the United Kingdom, the Delaware Art Museum holds the most significant collection of Pre-Raphaelite art.


Ophelia, John Everett Millais


  • Artist: John Everett Millais
  • Year: 1851-1852
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 76.2 cm × 111.8 cm (30.0 in × 44.0 in)
  • Location Tate Britain, London

Ophelia is undoubtedly both John Everett Millais’ most outstanding work and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s most recognizable piece of art. Millais also incorporated reeds, the muddy bank, and a water rat in addition to the flowers and boughs.

Ophelia’s three key features makes it fit in the pre Raphaelite canon. First, the painting upholds the legacy of color used by the Pre-Raphaelites. It indicates that the artwork was created using relatively bright and strong colors rather than the chiaroscuro style that was then encouraged by the Academy of Art. Second, the image’s balance continues to be convoluted and conflicting. On the one hand, this image appears stable due to the appropriate spatial arrangement of all of its components. On the other hand, everything in the painting appears to be exceedingly fragile and liable to break or collapse at any moment. Last but not least, the line and brush details are incredibly detailed and vivid replicas of truth and nature.

The plants were meticulously portrayed, with the majority having symbolic meaning. Ophelia’s brother Laertes may have referred to her as the “rose of May” by the roses close to her cheek and dress and the field rose on the bank. Willow, nettle, and daisies symbolize abandoned love, suffering, and innocence. Pansies portray love in vain. The violets Ophelia wears as a necklace represent faithfulness, virginity, or the death of the young, all of which could apply in this situation. The poppies represent death.

The Lady of Shalott



  • Artist: John William Waterhouse
  • Year: 1888
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 183 cm × 230 cm (72 in × 91 in)
  • Location Tate Britain, London

One of John William Waterhouse’s most well-known paintings is The Lady of Shalott, an 1888 oil painting on canvas. It shows a scene from Tennyson’s poem in which the poet describes the hardships and the predicament of a young woman who is loosely based on the figure of Elaine of Astolat from the medieval Arthurian legend and who yearned with an unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot, isolated under an undisclosed curse in a tower close to King Arthur’s Camelot. Three renditions of this character were painted by Waterhouse in 1888, 1894, and 1915.

This Pre Raphaelite work possesses the Pre-Raphaelites’ trademark finely detailed painting and vivid colors. The Lady’s boat is equipped with a lantern up front, and a cross is placed close to the bow. Three candles are located next to the cross. Two of the candles, a symbol of life, have already been out, indicating that she will pass away shortly. This painting is prized for Waterhouse’s realistic painting skills, in addition to the metaphorical elements. The Lady’s outfit is striking white in contrast to the much darker background. Further evidence of Waterhouse’s artistic prowess may be found in his meticulous attention to color and detail, accentuation of the natural world’s beauty, realist quality, and his portrayal of her helpless, melancholy countenance. Two swallows and the water plants that would be present in a river in England at this period are examples of naturalistic details.

Lady Lilith

Lady Lilith, Dante Gabriel Rossetti


  • Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Year: 1866–1868, 1872–73
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 96.5 cm × 85.1 cm (38.0 in × 33.5 in)
  • Location: Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware

The mystical character Lady Lilith, frequently linked to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is referred to as the fictitious first wife of Adam in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Pre-Raphaelites were perhaps best aware of her Romantic portrayal as a femme fatale in John Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem Faust, even though she occurs in several narratives as a demon, murderess, and child abduction (1808). In the well-known book, Goethe describes how Lilith seduces men with her long, “dangerous” hair, lyrically equating her mane with a deadly serpent’s clasp. This  representation of the complicated sexual politics of the Victorian era captured the attention of Rossetti and other painters.

Recent scholarship has revealed a much more complex reality for the Victorians, where strict “official” codes of behavior are contrasted with an extraordinary wealth of Victorian sexual literature, art, and pornography, despite the Victorians being sometimes characterized as a sexually repressed society. When women’s public responsibilities and educational prospects were rising, it could seem inappropriate to depict them as potentially hazardous sexual beings. And Rossetti’s female images, which frequently show strong, seemingly self-possessed women with attractive physical characteristics, seem to have been fascinated with this contradiction. Rossetti plays off the Victorian emblem for the fallen woman represented by unfettered female hair when he claims that Lilith entraps Adam with “one strangling golden hair” in the companion poem to this piece (which parallels Faust). A large comb also brings emphasis to this act of seduction and self-improvement.

Lilith is portrayed as looking into a mirror rather than at the viewer, allowing the (presumably male) onlooker visual access to her sexualized body, which is scaled larger than life and takes up nearly the entire canvas. However, despite the apparent power Lilith appears to have due to this gesture. Although she is strong and terrifying, Rossetti’s painting of the temptress confined keeps her safely contained for the enjoyment of male viewers.




  • Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Year: 1874
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 125.1 cm × 61 cm (49.3 in × 24 in)
  • Location: Tate Britain, London

By 1874, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was suffering from a mental breakdown, which was made worse by his dependence on alcohol and chloral hydrate. His companion, Jane Morris, paid him frequent visits. Given that Morris was married to William Morris in an unhappy relationship, Rossetti had grown rather fascinated with her. She is the epitome of elegance in this image with her ruby red lips, thick raven hair, extended neck, and flowing blue silk gown. Although she has a calm beauty, her look is remote, and she has a melancholy appearance.

Proserpine is marked with 1874, although it was painted and redone at least eight times throughout that decade, giving the viewer a clear indication of Rossetti’s fixation with Morris. She is reimagined in this work as the goddess Proserpine, whose story closely resembles the couple’s own. Proserpine must go for the Underworld in the story, leaving her true love, Adonis (Rossetti) behind . She unknowingly consumes six pomegranate seeds, the colour of its flesh matching the colour of Proserpine’s full lips while in the Underworld, forcing her to live with Hades (William Morris) there for six months of the year as his wife. Proserpine can only visit Adonis again during the six summer months when it is sunny above. Similar to Proserpine, Jane had felt obligated to her husband.


Boreas, John William Waterhouse


  • Artist: John William Waterhouse
  • Year: 1903
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Location: Private collection

With considerable inspiration, John William Waterhouse painted on this canvas while adoring women and linking them with myth.  A girl is shown traversing a field surrounded by trees against the backdrop of the natural world. The clear sky is physically closed because the strong wind exacerbates the awful weather—flowers and grass sway in the wind.

The girl is wearing a long blue dress with embellishments and a clear white cloak. She must have been out for a walk in the forest when the harsh weather caught up with her, and now she needs to get home quickly. She is gripping the top edge of her cape while concealing the other in her attire. Under the force of the wind, her figure leans. A yellow hairpin can be seen in the young woman’s hair, and she has her eyes lowered downward. By her side, a bird is soaring.

The maestro of the brush did his best to capture the splendor of the north wind.  He used distinct contour lines, swift, light brushstrokes, warm and cool tones that were rich and varied, contrasts, chiaroscuro, and transitional tones.

The young woman is depressed and lonely deep inside. The element expresses sadness and represents the difficulties in her path. But she will get through them and get over her depression since she will soon arrive at a warm, comforting house where happiness awaits her. The artwork elicits incredibly intriguing sentiments, fosters imagination and fancy, and submerges the viewer in thoughts and reflections.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Models

The PRB Models include: Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris, Marie Spartali Stillman, Maria Zambaco, and Fanny Cornforth.

Elizabeth Siddal

Elizabeth Siddal


  • Born: 25 July 1829 London, England
  • Died: 11 February 1862 (aged 32) Blackfriars, London, England
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Artist, poet, artist’s model
  • Spouse: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal was an English painter, poet, and model for artists. Both Wightwick Manor and Ashmolean hold significant collections of her works. Artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, notably Walter Deverell, William Hunt, John Millais (including his iconic 1852 painting Ophelia), and notably her spouse Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painted and drew Siddal extensively.

Jane Morris

Jane Morris


  • Born: 19 October 1839 Oxford, England
  • Died: 26 January 1914 (aged 74) Bath, England
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Embroiderer, artist’s model
  • Spouse: William Morris

Jane Morris was a model and source of inspiration for the English artists William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Jane and her sister Elizabeth attended a Drury Lane Theatre Company performance in Oxford in October 1857, where she was noticed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones. They were captivated by her attractiveness and requested that she pose for them.

They were captivated by her attractiveness and requested that she pose for them. When he married Jane, Morris was a poet, author, translator, textile designer, and social activist. Jane was a naturally quiet woman with a humble background. Due to her long, pale face and quantity of long brown hair, she represented an antithesis to the era’s usual blonde-haired and rosy-cheeked beauties. Morris also served as the model of works of art by Evelyn de Morganand Edward Burne Jones.

​Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Spartali Stillman


  • Born: 10 March 1844 London, England
  • Died: 6 March 1927 (aged 82) London, England
  • Nationality: British
  • Occupation: Painter

Marie Stillman was a British member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s second generation. She had one of the longest careers among the Pre-Raphaelites, spanning sixty years and producing over one hundred fifty works. She grew up surrounded by artists and art. She began her career with the Brotherhood as a beloved model, but she quickly trained and became a renowned painter.

James Whistler introduced the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Spartali in 1864. She began posing for him and when Spartali indicated an interest in learning to paint, he connected her to Ford Madox Brown for art classes. Brown; Edward Burne Jones (The Mill); Julia Margaret Cameron; Rossetti (A Vision of Fiammetta, Dante’s Dream at the Time of Beatrice’s Death, The Bower Meadow); and Spencer Stanhope are examples of artists whose works she has modeled. Marie Spartali displayed her initial pieces at the Dudley Gallery in the spring of 1867. She became a close friend of William Morris and Edward Byrne Jones and a solid practitioner of the Dudley Gallery’s form of dreamy medievalism.

Maria Zambaco

Maria Zambaco


  • Born: 29 April 1843 London, England
  • Died: 14 July 1914 Paris, France
  • Nationality: British and Greek

Maria, an outstanding artist who studied sculpture under Auguste Rodin, was born into a rich Anglo-Greek family. She was well-known in Pre-Raphaelite circles for her dark red hair and pale skin, and she did her most renowned modeling for the artist who later became her lover, Edward Burne-Jones. She posed for James McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti as well.

Fanny Cornforth

Fanny Cornforth


  • Born: 3 January 1835 Steyning, Sussex, England
  • Died: 24 February 1909 (aged 74) Graylingwell Hospital, Chichester, England
  • Nationality: British

Fanny Cornforth was an English artist’s model and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mistress and inspiration. Rossetti was provided housekeeping services by Cornforth. Cornforth also modeled for Edward Burne Jones and J.R. Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908). In contrast to models such as Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth’s figures in Rossetti’s paintings are typically quite sensuous.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood vs. Impressionism

Impressionism was an art movement lasting from 1876 to 1886 while pre Raphaelite movement was formed in 1848 and ended in 1853. The Impressionism Art Movement was founded by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir  and Alfred Sisley while Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais formed PRB.

Impressionism is characterized by relatively thin, visible brushstrokes, an open composition, a focus on accurately capturing the changing qualities of light (often emphasizing how time has passed), commonplace subjects, unusual viewing angles, and the inclusion of movement as a crucial component of human experience and perception. Pre Raphaelite principles include medieval outlook, art for art’s sake, vivid visual presentation, and sound and sense. Pre Raphaelite artists infused their depictions of biblical subjects and medieval literary themes with individual poetic meaning.

What Art Movements Influenced the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

Italian Renaissance art and the German Nazarene Movement both influenced the Brotherhood. The early Renaissance art of Italian Quattrocento artists first impacted Pre-Raphaelitism. Before Michelangelo and Raphael, the Quattrocento was the art period between 1400 and 1499. These painters and the mannerists of the mid-late Renaissance approached figuration mechanically. English Romantic poets Lord Alfred Tennyson and John Keats impacted the Pre-Raphaelites. Second, a group of German Romantic painters founded the Nazarene Movement in the 19th century. The Nazarene Movement took its name from the biblically inspired attire and hairstyle that the Nazarene artists incorporated into their artwork.

Additionally, the Nazarene painters wore biblical-inspired attire. Artists Johann Fredrich Overbeck (1789-1869), Franz Pforr (1788-1812), and Johann Konrad Hottinger (1764-1841), along with other students from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, created the Nazarene movement. Because of their focus on truthful expression, this preceding art movement served as an inspiration for Pre-Raphaelitism.

What Art Movements were Influenced the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many later British artists and art movements such as Arts and Craft Movement, Aesthetic and Decadent movements. William Morris (1834-1896) and the Arts and Crafts Movement were significantly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites. The Arts and Crafts Movement was a decorative arts movement that developed throughout England in the second part of the nineteenth century.

The Pre-Raphaelite influence on the Aesthetic and Decadent movements was as early as the 1870s. Both movements departed from the movement’s original objectives of naturalism and depiction of non-idealized subjects. Instead, the Aesthetic movement prioritized aesthetically beautiful compositions above content. Several artists, most notably Edward Burne Jones, began to paint in the Aesthetic style, creating sensual works meant to elicit a physical response from the viewer.

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