Who were the Pre-Raphaelites?

‘Love Among the Ruins’ by Burne-Jones displayed in the Great Parlour, Wightwick Manor

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a nineteenth century art movement founded in 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and several of their friends. The name refers to their interest in early Italian art before Raphael (born 1483), which was a rejection of the artistic canon championed by the Royal Academy at the time.

What was Pre-Raphaelite art?

The artists shared an interest in nature and realism and a close link with literature and poetry.  

The works are rich in detail, particularly in depictions of the natural world. Christian religious imagery, Arthurian romance and mythology were popular themes.  

Though they called themselves a brotherhood, the circle grew to include female artists as well, including the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, poet Christina Rossetti, and Elizabeth Siddal: Rossetti’s wife, muse, and a painter in her own right.

Over the next few decades, Pre-Raphaelitism grew from an exercise in youthful idealism into a mature artistic movement with a socialist edge.  

Art and industry

Merchants and industrialists were great patrons of the Pre Raphaelite painters. As today, the very wealthy were interested in supporting the most exciting, cutting edge art of the time.  

Their interest in the movement seems at times to be at odds with their work – the imaginative and natural against the scientific and mechanical. Art, however, provided a retreat into the beautiful, an escape from the utilitarian ideology of the modern world.  

Some of the artists began to experiment with older techniques of craftsmanship, most notably William Morris, whose decorative arts company sought to celebrate the handmade and unique in an age of mass-production.  

Progressive painters

Though often criticised for being backward looking, with an interest in ‘primitive’ artistic styles, the Pre-Raphaelite’s efforts to include contemporary social issues in their works and break down the barriers between literature and art was radical for the time.

Visit our places with Pre-Raphaelite connections and collections:


Burne-Jones stained glass window

Our Pre-Raphaelite collections: 

Discover our Pre-Raphaelite collections including paintings, drawings, sculptures, stained glass and decorative household objects.