The Preraphaelite Movement: William Holman Hunt's the Scapegoat and Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix

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  • Topic: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt
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  • Published : April 15, 2007
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The Pre-Raphaelite movement was originally a brotherhood formed around 1848 by several dissatisfied young artists to combat the teachings of the Royal Academy and that of Joshua ‘Sir Sloshua' Reynolds. The ringleaders of this group were William Holman-Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Unlike most historic art-movements the Pre-Raphaelites actually christened themselves the term after marking the initials PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) on their early works. This title refers to an attempt to emulate the art produced before the High Renaissance period and ultimately the work prior to that of the master Raphael.

Ford Madox Brown was not strictly a member of the brotherhood but is said to have had a huge influence over them as in 1845 he visited Rome where a group of German Catholic artists known as the Nazarenes had settled. Christopher Newall says, ‘Through Brown the principles of Nazarene painting were transmitted to the association of younger progressive painters.' The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's preliminary principles can be summarized as follows: An approach back to medieval archaism (with bright colours and flattened perspective); working towards ‘truth to nature' ethics preached by art critic John Ruskin (against classical idealism) ; and the illustration of moral, religious and literary narrative. Christopher Wood sums up the movement as, ‘a blend of romantic idealism, scientific rationalism and morality.' (See, Fig 1 and 2). This rebellious group went on to forge one of the most influential art movements of the Victorian period, despite not always being unified with the principles they initially set out.

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)
William Holman-Hunt had an obsessive-compulsive approach to painting. His work was thoroughly planned and thought out with The Awakening Conscience (Fig. 3) being a good example of how the most mundane of objects was important to its narrative and moral message. Wood adds, ‘life for Hunt was always a struggle, partly because of poverty, partly because of constant agonizing over his work.' It is through this struggle and agonizing that led him to his first journey to the Holy Land. In 1853 he exhibited The Light of the World (Fig. 4), which through re-printing has arguably become one of Hunts more favourably received paintings. However in his book Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood he recalls his disappointment of what a respected philosopher, Thomas Carlyle had thought of the work. For Hunt truth was paramount and Carlyle's disapproval sent alarm bells ringing. Wood says, ‘Hunt represents the serious, moralizing side of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was a religious man, and believed that art must be ‘a handmaid in the cause of justice and truth.' Hunt is often believed to be the most faithful of the Pre-Raphaelites to have followed through with Ruskin's theories .

Through his quest to do dedicated illustration of Religious subject matter he felt obliged to go where the source material is genuinely believed to have its origin. Newall explains, ‘the authentic representation of the actual setting of biblical events was seen, especially by Protestants as a way of invigorating and renewing the iconographic language of Christian art.' Unfortunately when Hunt got there he was hit with several more problems. In letters to Millais he speaks of how difficult it was to get models to reference from.

Human depiction in art was not as popular with native Jewish and Muslim customs and this is partly why he received some hostility on his travels (Fig. 11). He had to find a way of painting his own Evangelical Protestant Christ. He managed to paint The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (Fig. 5) (although this did take five years to complete and eventually had to be completed back in his studio in London). Hunts journey and struggle for truth ultimately led to The Scapegoat (Fig. 6 and 7).

The Scapegoat
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