t last we have an introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites that one can enthusiastically recommend. When I began teaching courses on Pre-Raphaelitism in literature and the arts way back in 1969, I found few books that I could use in teaching, though of course eventually we had Mary Bennett's seminal catalogues to which we could refer students as well as the work of Staley and Surtees. I first assigned Raymond Watkinson's still-useful Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design, but as its title suggests it tends to emphasize the later Rossettian stream of the movement and its crucial influence on art and design. In addition, like many works at the time, it had very few color illustrations. Anyone born in the last three decades or so will find difficult getting a sense of how much less visual information we had with which to work before the recent advances in computer-based publication and color printing. Just as the appearance of a new scholarly edition of an individual author's works almost immediately generates large amounts of historical scholarship and literary criticism about that author, so, too, exhibitions and widely available reproductions have the same effect on individual artists and broader movements with which they may be associated. Therefore, a book like Christopher Wood's The Pre-Raphaelites has great value, despite some drawbacks, such as an inadequate view of the complexities of Pre-Raphaelitism. Woods knows as much as anyone does about Victorian painting, and as a leading dealer, he has access to an enormous number of relevant works, some little known or even entirely unknown. Expensive as it is, Wood's book was the next I used. Now Barringer's excellent brief introduction is the obvious book to use, at least when discussing early Pre-Raphaelitism.

The book, which confines itself quite strictly to paintings by the chief members of the PRB, Madox Brown, and a very few associates, such as Inchbold and Brett, consists of a fine introduction and five excellent chapters: "Rebellion and Revivalism," "Truth to Nature," "Modern Life," "Art, Religion and Empire," and "Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes." It does not discuss the poetry and other writings of these artists, and neither does it have room to include either the so-called later Pre-Raphaelites, such as E. R. Hughes, J. W. Waterhouse, J. L. Byam Shaw, or important women artists, such as Emma Sandys or Evelyn de Morgan. The advantage of such rigorous staying on topic appears in the admirably complete idea of early Pre-Raphaelitism Barringer conveys with his clear, forceful, and interesting style.

Barringer's introduction does an admirable job of concisely placing the Brotherhood in the contexts of romanticism, mid-Victorian Britain, including "taxonmic spirit of the period" (15), the effect of photography, and the critical fortunes of the movement in the later nineteenth- and twentieth centuries. In addition to his convincing analysis of Millais's Isabella, I especially like observations like the following:

Pre-Raphaelite landscape implies an industrial city as its unspoken other and the outer London suburbs, with their interpenetration of country and city, proved a fascinating subject. Ironicaly, the maturity of the railway network in the 1850s, a proud symbol of modernisation, allowed an unprecedented freedom of movement which was of particular benefit to landscape painters. It was extensively used by all the Pre-Raphaelite circle, conveying, for example, Ruskin and Millais to Scotland. [17]

The first chapter, "Rebellion and Revivalism," includes crucial discussions of medievalism, Pugin and the Gothic revival, Brown and the frescoes in the new houses of Parliament, the Nazarenes, and the formation of the Brotherhood. "Truth to Nature," the next chapter, concerns landscape and consists of excellent discussions of key works by Brett, Brown, Collins, Hunt, Inchbold Millais, Ruskin, and Turner. I especially appreciated the sections on Brown's landcspaes, in large part because he is a painter whom I have often found difficult to give his due. "Modern Life," chapter three, contains sections on "Modern Life and Genre," gender relations, "The Fallen Woman," and "Men at Work," this last topic being the subject of an entire book by the author. Barringer here discusss several obviously central works of the PRB circle, including Hunt's The Awakening Conscience, Brown's Work, Hughes's The Long Engagement, and Martineau's The Last Day in the Old Home as well as lesser known works, such as Hunt's The Children's Holiday. Although Barringer is absolutely correct in emphasizing the essentially middle-class beliefs embodied by many of the these paintings, I think he much underestimates their radical nature. From their very first works, like Millais's Isabella and Hunt's Rienzi and The Awakening Conscience, these would-be art revolutionaries followed Thomas Carlyle in despising the aristocracy. Like the first Reform Bill, which began the transference of political power from the landed gentry and nobility to the middle classes, these Pre-Raphaelite works make an attack on the ruling clases whose jarring nature is today hard to realize.

"Art, Religion and Empire" does an excellent job of setting forth the complexities of Britsh religion in the Victorian period and its relation to the arts. Sections enitled "Tractarian Tendencies," "Muscular Christianity," "The Light of the World," and "Religion, Race and Empire: Holman Hunt in the Holy land," and "Typological Sybolism" skillfuly use individual paintngs and modern post-colonial theory to illuminate a rich subject. My only reservation here concerns what Barringer takes to be Hunt's anti-semitism, something a little odd in relation to a painter whose ethnographic realism led the Illustrated London News to attack him for depicting Christ in The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple as "a Jew-boy in the streets." As I pointed out thirty years ago in "William Holman Hunt and the Missionaries," the artist (who later became a fervent zionist) alienated his obvious sources of patronage when he published a long pamphlet attacking Church of England-sponsored attempts to converts Jews in the Holy land. In addition, what Barringer takes to be chiefly a satire on the rabbis in The Finding Hunt also intended as an attack on Christian Pharisees; such use of older figures to represent (and sometimes mock) contemporaries being a standard technique of Victorian novels and poems about religion set in the past, such as those by Newman, Kingsley, Browning, and others.

A final chapter effectively discusses the movement away from the earlier emphases of the Brotherhood towards the aestheticism of Rossetti and those many others he influenced. Rossetti here receves his due, and Burne Jones maks an important appeaance. Here I particularly like not only all the discussions of Rossetti but also the balance and tact with which he discusss the complex relation of one of my favorite paintings, Millais's Autumn Leaves, to Ruskinian theory, the PRB, and later aestheticism.

I have a few admittedly minor reservations, but these involve only matters of emphasis about topics that Barringer does mention and that I frankly admit are my paricular hobby horses, the first of which is my belief that Northern Renaissance painters like Van Eyck and Memling had far greater importance for the early Pre-Raphaelites than did painters of the Italian Renaissance. Second, I find compelling Hunt's version of the origins of the PRB, which makes the second volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters with its typological reading of Tintoretto's Scuola di San Rocco Annunciation the initial inspiration for Hunt and Millais rather than the first volume. Granted, Hunt's obviously recreated (and at times possibly created) long passages of remembered dialogue make one suspect their veracity, but in this case a letter from Millais to Hunt after he first published his account of the origins of the PRB in the 1886 Contemporary Review strongly supports his version. I believe it was only after Coventry Patmore forced Ruskin to look at Millais's painting at the Royal Academy, pointing out that he and his fellows followed Ruskin's advice to young painters at the end of the first volume, did the emphasis shift. The fact that paintings by Rossetti, Millais, Hunt, and Collins plus Collinson's poem in the The Germ all all make central use of typology convinces me that the PRB was first inspired to create a synthesis of anti-conventional hard-edged realism with elaborate symbolism and not just that pictorial style alone. But these are minor reservations about an excellent introduction to Pre-Raphaelitism.


Barringer, Tim. Reading the Pre-Raphaelites. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. [First published 1998 in London by Widenfeld & Nicolson.

Hilton, Timothy. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Thames and Hudson, c. 1970.

Landow, George P. Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979.

Landow, George P. "Reading Pre-Raphaelite Painting." Journal of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Studies. 1 (Spring 1988), 25-31.

Landow, George P. "William Holman Hunt and the Missionaries." The Pre-Raphaelite Review 1 (1977), 27-33.

Watkinson, Raymond. Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design. London: Studio Vista, 1970.

Wood, Christopher. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: , 19xx.

Last modified 8 January 2007