[This article originally appeared in The Pre-Raphaelite Review 2 (1979), 71-76.]
The Art-Journal, which provides an invaluable index to Victorian taste, well documents an ever-increasing artistic interest in the middle ages between 1850 and 1880. Even the most cursory glance through the pages of this influential art periodical reveals the great extent to which antiquarians directly influenced artistic subject and renderings. What is most surprising about The Art-Journal's contribution to medievalism in art and design is that for a long time its editorial policy was staunchly opposed to such a movement. The Art-Journal, in other words, seems to have contributed to the medieval revival almost in spite of itself.
Its early opposition to any movement it considered archaistic appears in its review of the 1849 Royal Academy Exhibition. The Art Journal reviewer commented about Oliphant's "The Holy Family" which he took to be "an imitation of the Giotteschi," that "we cannot see any good purpose in reference to a period so remote" ["The Royal Academy. The Eighty-First Exhibition — 1849," Art Journal, 11 (1849), 172. Hereafter all citations will appear in the following form: 11.172.]. The Art-Journal, it appears, opposed artistic revivalism because of the social and political overtones it associated with such glancing back at the past. R. N. Wornum began his "Modern Moves in Art" (1850), which juxtaposes Gothic architecture and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by firmly nailing his colors to the mast: "Progress be our motto" (12.269), he asserts, before going on to wonder at the "remarkable . . . recurrence to an old and imperfect style of design in painting" (12.270). Wornum called the Pre-Raphaelites the 'Young England School" (12.271), mistaking the would-be reformers for followers of Disraeli. The writer argued that this school "breathes in the spirit of its works the miserable asceticism of the darkest monastic ages; and exhibits in their execution quite the extremest littleness of style that ever disfigured the works of any of the early middle-age masters" (12.271). According to Wornum, the main flaw in the young men's conception of art was this wasteful archaism: "disregarding the fruits of the earnest and skillful labour of ages, it goes back to the puerile achievement of the infants of Art" (12.271).
Two articles which appeared the following year continue this approach, censuring Pre-Raphaelite and other revivalism for threatening the progress of the arts. For example, in a short biographical study of Adrian van Ostade an anonymous author claimed that "we live in an age when attempts are being made, both with pen and pencil, to carry Art back to its primitive state of semi-barbarism, and to hold this up as the standard of perfection, and the only pure condition of Art" (13.273). The essay argues that "If we are to retrograde five or six centuries in painting, a similar step might, with equal reason, be made in poetry and many of the sciences" (13.273). Shall we return to Chaucer and Bacon? In sum, the problem comes to this: "If the ancient pre-Raffaellites and their modern imitators be [high Art's] only expounders, then all who differ from them, whatever class of painting they followed, are little else than empirics, or, at best, heterodox disciples of Art" (13.173).
An article entitled "The Pre-Raffaellites," which opened the July 1851 number, explicitly associated this group with the work of antiquaries. The author of this piece — one "J. B." — asserted that the young men are best termed "the Gothic school, or that school which might be engendered by the contemplation of monumental brasses or ancient stained glass windows, where the objects are flat, and inlaid, and coloured without any reference to harmony or chiaro-oscuro" (13.185). Similarly, J. B. likens Pre-Raphaelite color to that of "early pictures" and "illuminated missals" in which "no signs of either classification or subordination [appear]; on the contrary, blue, red, yellows, and green struggle for superiority" (13.186). These remarks and the 1856 anonymous dialogue "A Few Words," which labeled the Pre-Raphaelite style "a diversion of archeological art" (18.275), are particularly interesting when one realizes that the pages of The Art-Journal itself were providing a major impetus to such archeological art by 1851.
In short, The Art-Journal's attacks on Pre-Raphaelitism as an archeological art created by antiquarian delight in missals, old carvings, and manuscript illumination contrasts rather oddly with its publishing a very large number of articles which cultivated precisely such a taste. From the 1850's The Art-Journal itself, and possibly despite itself, did far more than has been realized to make its Victorian readers aware of the details of life in the middle ages. One major source of such knowledge was the reviewing of many works on the life, art, and thought of this earlier time. Thus, in 1849 The Art-Journal gave an enthusiastic review to H. Noel Humphrey's Art of Illumination and Missal Painting (11.36), and the following year it commented with equal praise upon Henry Shaw's Decorative Arts of the Middle Ages (12.96), portions of which had earlier appeared its own pages. Throughout the years the periodical always reviewed the publications of the Arundel Society as well as both foreign and domestic works on the middle ages.
As important as were these reviews, The Art-Journal's major contribution to the medieval revival appears in its many articles by prominent antiquarians. These essays, many of which formed series lasting over the course of several years, each presented half a dozen to a dozen line drawings taken from medieval MSS and then accompanied them by two to four pages of triple-column text; after 1875, when the periodical changed to a handsomer double-column format, the articles remained essentially the same. The antiquarians Thomas Wright, F. W. Fairholt, Edward Lewes Cutts, and (later) Llewellynn Jewitt provided the greater number of these essays. Cutts's article in the January 1867 number, which began his series "Knights of the Middle Ages," explains the general intent of essays by all four men:
The object of these papers is to select out of the wonderful series of pictures of mediaeval life and manners, contained in illuminated MSS., a gallery of subjects which will illustrate the armour and costume, the military life and chivalric adventures, of the Knights of the Middle Ages; and to append to them such explanations as the pictures may seem to need, and such discursive remarks as the subjects may suggest.
Such a series will, we believe, supply the artist with valuable authorities and suggestions for the treatment of subjects of mediaeval history; while they will be interesting to the general reader — some of them for their artistic merit, and all of them as contemporary pictures of mediaeval life and original illustrations of mediaeval romance. (29.1)
It is perhaps worth remarking, that although Cutts makes clear his chief purpose in setting these illustrations before the Victorian public is archeological, he also believes that his examples of medieval art are themselves of artistic value. They are more than antiquarian curiosities or mere archeological records.
In 1851, The Art-Journal had begun to publish the first of its series which drew heavily upon medieval MSS. for illustrations — Thomas Wright's eighteen-part "Domestic Manners of the English During the Middle Ages," which ran from 1851 through 1854.2 Wright (1810-77) was particularly well suited to carry out such work of popularization, since he had long concerned himself with the social history of the middle ages. As The Art-Journal review of his History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England During the Middle Ages pointed out in 1862 was one of the first historians to turn politics to the "modes and manners of life of the people" (24.31). Wright, who was the author of a two-volume Biographia Britannica Literaria (1846), published — among many other works — Popular Treatises on Science Written During the Middle Ages, in Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and English (1841); Essays on Subjects Concerned with the Literature, Popular Superstitions, and History (1846); The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon. A History of the Early Inhabitants Britain down to the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity (1852, 2nd ed. 1861); Essays on Archeological Subjects. . . (1861); and A History of Caricature and Grotesque (1875).
In addition to his long series on the domestic manners of the English, which appeared in The Art-Journal between 1851 and 1854, Wright published many other articles on the details of daily life in the medieval period. For instance, in 1859 he published "Indoor Amusements and Occupations of the Ladies of the Middle Ages" and "The Domestic Games and Amusements in the Middle Ages" and the next year "Mediaeval Manners: the Kitchen and the Dinner Table" as well as several other articles.
The engraver and antiquarian Frederick William Fairholt (1814-66) was responsible for the most important element in Wright's articles — the illustrations taken from medieval MSS. A scholar as well as an engraver, Fairholt edited works for the Percy Society as well as publishing a history of costume in England (1846) and his Dictionary of Terms in Art (1854). Whether from love of the artistic qualities in the old illuminations or from a devotion to scholarly accuracy, Fairholt reproduced the naive, flat drawings of the originals without any attempt to make his renderings match the preconceptions of his audience. It is hard to emphasize too much the importance of such accurate renderings of medieval style, since for most of The Art-Journal's audience they must have provided the first contact with a stylistic alternative to the increasingly realistic painting of the 1850's. As the experience of nineteenth-century American audiences with Giotto and Fra Angelico reveals, the contact with earlier art produced traumatic encounters for which their reading of Ruskin had left them unprepared [For an example, see Roger B. Stein, Ruskin and Aesthetic Thought in America, 1840-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, I967), 138-39]. Fairholt's illustrations thus had two very important effects: in the first place, they made available to artists and audience alike many facts about the way men and women lived their lives in the middle ages. In doing so, these drawings both contributed heavily towards creating demands for archeological accuracy in painting and went a long way towards making the middle ages less abstract and romantic. Possibly even more important, the hundreds of drawings taken from medieval sources by Fairholt and his followers contributed to the appreciation of artistic styles quite different from — and even opposed to — the increasing realism which they also helped encourage. In other words, at the very same time that these articles with their extensive presentations of visual facts aided the archeological art that figures so importantly in Victorian painting, they also presented the possibility of an entirely different set of artistic qualities. One may surmise that three decades of these antiquarian essays in The Art-Journal probably played an important part in preparing for the later reception of primitive and non-Western arts in England. Thus, like the Art-Journal itself, the illustrations which appeared in its pages supported opposing trends — and as such, they provide an excellent type of the Victorian age and its arts.
After Wright and Fairholt, Edward Lewes Cutts (1814-1901) was the next most important contributor of these antiquarian essays to The Art Journal. Anglican minister, antiquarian, and ecclesiastical historian, Cutts wrote many works in the course of his career for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. Among many other books, he also wrote a Dictionary of the Church of England, which went through four editions by 1887, and volumes on Charlemagne (1882) and Augustine of Canterbury (1895). Before beginning to write for The Art-Journal, he had already published A Manual for the Study of Sepulchral Slabs and Crosses of the Middle Ages (1849). In 1856 he made his first contributions to pages — a three part series on "Minstrels of the Middle Ages" and a four part one on "Monks of the Middle Ages." He later wrote other papers for The Art-Journal, including an eleven part study of "Knights of the Middle Ages" -~1867-69), a six part "Merchants of the Middle Ages" (1870-72), and many shorter pieces.
In addition to important anonymous articles, such as the 1868 "Art of the Armourer" (30.30-32), there were many essays by other authors, the most important of whom was Llewellyn Jewitt. In the 1870's Jewitt helped write a series on the ancient homes and castles of England, and he himself wrote a series on "The Museums of England, with Special Reference to Objects of Art and Antiquity," which appeared at irregular intervals after 1871. By 1875, The Art-Journal's enthusiasm for articles about the middle ages had become far warmer than it had been even in the 1850s. Indeed, whereas during the decade after 1850 it had also published major series on contemporary German painters, artists of the Italian Renaissance, and what we may term "travel-subjects," such as its long exploration of life along the River Thames, in 1875 almost all the pieces not immediately concerned with contemporary exhibitions, reviews, and gossip have to do with medieval art. For example, in addition to continuing its "Stately Homes of England" series, which frequently emphasized medieval structures, The Art-Journal published Cutts's three part history of eucharistic sacraments and another three parts of his "Traditions of Christian Art," which continued into the following year. Alfred Rimmer contributed several pieces on "The Ancient Stone Crosses of England," while Jewitt wrote "Art Under the Seats" — a heavily illustrated series on medieval carving and grotesqueries in choir stalls. In addition, Dora Greenfield produced an essay on "Art Designs on Mediaeval Tiles," and Mrs. Bury Palliser published her two part essay on Jules Jacquemart's Collection of Shoes in the Museum of Costume, Paris," which featured many examples of medieval and Renaissance footwear.
If my guess is correct that all these examples of medieval style helped prepare for the reception of primitive and non-Western art, it is then particularly significant that the second important theme in the 1875 Art-Journal was Indian, Chinese and Japanese art. Alexander Hunter's two part 'Metal-Work Among the Hindoos," J. H. Lawrence Archer's "Chinese Porcelain," and the first three parts of Sir Rutherford Alcock's long series on Japanese Art (which continued for four years) all appeared in 1875.
In short, The Art-Journal presents the interesting example of a major periodicaI that appears to have done much to encourage the medieval revival in spite of itself. It is difficult to analyse the reasons for this rather paradoxical situation with any degree of sureness, though one does know that it was not due to any change of editor — S. C. Hall remained in charge of the Journal for many years. Possibly, Hall and others in charge of the periodical simply wished to give their readers what they wanted, and when the first of Wright's articles did well found it necessary to continue a tested recipe. Then again, the fact that The Art-Journal was published by Hall and Virtue, who published antiquarian works, may have had much to do with its shift in contents — though it is quite possible, on the other hand, that Hall and Virtue published the work of Wright and others only because it had been so successful in the periodical. At any rate, since as late as 1867 The Art-Journal reviewer points out that "Sentiment will not redeem want of form, mediaevalism cannot annul naturalism" (29.87), one can conclude that the basic attitudes of the periodical had not much changed.
Published: 1979; last modified July 1999