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Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group whose intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach adopted by the Mannerist artists who followed Raphael and Michelangelo. Hence the name 'Pre-Raphaelite'. However, their immediate complaint concerned the continuing influence of the founder of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who they called 'Sloshua' Reynolds because of his loose brushwork.

The group was founded in London in 1848 by three art students, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Four friends and relatives also joined to form the seven strong Brotherhood. These were William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson and Frederick George Stephens. The Pre-Raphaelites have been considered the first avant-garde movement in art, though they have also been denied that status, because they continued to accept the doctrine of 'mimesis', or imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. However, the Pre-Raphaelites undoubtedly defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, "The Germ", to promote their ideas. Their debates were recorded in the "Pre-Raphaelite Journal".

The central doctrine of the movement was that artists should seek to represent the natural world without preconceptions about what is artistically proper according to traditions and techniques inherited from old masters. Nevertheless, their early work was influenced by late Medieval art. However, Hunt and Millais soon moved towards greater emphasis on the detailed observation of nature. Rossetti's work continued to be influenced by Medieval art.

After early controversy, the Brotherhood was supported by the critic John Ruskin. However, it ceased to exist as an active organisation after the early 1850s. Nonetheless it influenced the work of many later British artists, well into the twentieth century. Rossetti later came to be seen as a precursor of the wider European Symbolist movement. His work also influenced William Morris, in whose firm he became a partner. Millais' work ceased to be recognisably Pre-Raphaelite after 1860.

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