Frederic Leighton, Flaming June

The Pre-Raphaelites: Art, Beauty, and Transgression

Instructor: Samantha Hill
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What makes an image beautiful? What makes it shocking? Condemned by Charles Dickens as “degenerate,” the Pre-Raphaelites have been called the “bad boys of the British art world.” Frustrated with the classical aesthetic style dictated by the work of the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, they revolted, seeking to replace the ideal with the real. Religious figures were painted in detail, revealing their human nature. The consummate nude reclining was replaced by sexually empowered women standing. The muted marble tones of deferential and derivative canvases were replaced by daring pigment that demanded attention. Words like “sacrilegious” and “blasphemous,” were hurled at Pre-Raphaelite works for daring to depict, among other things: prostitution, love, emigration, poverty, and death. But what motivated—socially, politically, and artistically—the Pre-Raphaelite movement and its “shocking” aesthetic? And how did the Pre-Raphaelites change the way we visualize beauty, feeling, and the real?

In this course we will explore the emergence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in its historical, artistic, and political context. We will look at the work of William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and James Collinson, Thomas Charles Farrer, Charles Herbert Moore, Fidelia Bridges, among others. Digging into the work, reputations, and trans-Atlantic influence of these Victorian-era rebels, we will ask: What does it mean to depict nature? How does one converse in the language of flowers? What does it mean for a work of art to be avant-garde? How are we to understand symbolism over time? How did Pre-Raphaelites approach and represent gender and sexuality? How are we to think about questions of beauty and truth today in a world of digital reproduction? What does it mean to “go to nature”? What does it mean to depict the real? Alongside the visual study of key Pre-Raphaelite art, we’ll read from the Pre-Raphaelite periodical The Germ, as well as works by Christina Rosetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, George Meredith, and John Ruskin, among many others.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
June 02 — June 23, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open