The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a seven member group of poets, artists, and critics that formed in response to the Royal Academy. They found the Royal Academy to be shallow and uninspired and drew their own inspiration from 14th and 15th century Italian art.They believed in a more spiritual, realistic approach to art- values that were common in the 15th century- and took issue with the Classical style popularized by Raphael- thus the name Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. (“Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”) The Brotherhood set out to create to new and refreshing art for the modern age. They challenged the contemporary conventions of art. The Brotherhood prized an almost photo-realistic accuracy, even to lesser elements of the painting such as those in the foreground, and they did so in a brilliant, lively color palette. They drew inspiration from literary greats such as Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson. The members also openly encouraged the pursuit of all art- not just certain fields. They maintained that art is all encompassing and that artists should pursue a variety of forms, whether it be painting, poetry, or literature (Landow).

The Formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Brotherhood itself was formed in 1848 by three Royal Academy students: William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Brotherhood first appeared in 1849 at London’s Royal Academy

The Brotherhood's initials- as it appeared on one of Millais' works (Millais).
The Brotherhood’s initials- as it appeared on one of Millais’ works (Millais).

and Free Exhibition show. The three men signed their paintings with both their signatures and the acronym “PRB.” The first works to include the initials at the gallery were Hunt’s Rienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice for the Death of His Young Brother Slain in a Skirmish between the Colonna and Orsini Factions (or simply Rienzi), Millais’ Isabella, and Rossetti’s Girlhood of Virgin Mary. (Meagher). During the group’s brief period of activity (1849-1854) they received praise from high places, most notably the famous art critic, John Ruskin. They were not without criticism, though. The Brotherhood had many critics, including the famous novelist Charles Dickens, who found their work irreverent for its stark realism and looked down on them for not adhering to the stringent standards of beauty of finer art (“Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”).

To learn more about the other, non-founding members of the Brotherhood click here.

The End of an Era & the Beginning of Another

By 1854, the Brotherhood had disbanded. The artists no longer signed their work with the Brotherhood’s distinguishing “PBR” and went their separate ways (“Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”). Although short-lived, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ideas and members had a lasting impact. Founding member, Dante Gabriel Rossetti ushered in the second form of Pre-Raphaelitism- Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism- which led to the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood also had a direct influence upon the Decadence movement of the late 19th century and several famous poets, most notably Gerard Manley Hopkins and W.B Yeats (Landow).

It was not just in high art and literature that the movement left its mark. Interestingly enough, its ideas reached into the world of commerce with goods such as furniture and jewelry when Rossetti joined his mentee, William Morris, in his design firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. The firm was a peculiar result of the Industrial Revolution as artists began to experiment with applied arts in mass commerce. It still exists today under the name Morris & Co. (Meagher).

Morris & Co. wallpaper sample from 1887 (Morris and Co.)
Morris & Co. wallpaper sample from 1887 (Morris and Co.)

The Brotherhood is far from forgotten as group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Society remains admirers of the Brotherhood, and they hope to carry on their ideas and works.


Landow, George P. “Pre-Raphaelites: An Introduction.”Victorian Web. N.p., 07 Jun 2007. Web. 24 April 2013. <>.
Meagher, Jennifer. “The Pre-Raphaelites.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p.. Web. 12 May 2013. <>.

Millais, John Everett. File:Initials prb.jpg. N.d. Painting. wikimedia.orgWeb. 14 May 2013. <>.
Morris and Co., . File:Morris & Co. – Morris and Co. – Google Art Project.jpg. N.d. Sample Book. wikimedia.orgWeb. 14 May 2013. <>.
“Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.” Encyclop√¶dia Britannica . N.p.. Web. 20 April 2013. <>.

Contributors: Corrigan, Saienni, Sass, Young