The Pre-Raphaelites | Fine Arts Reviews

Scholarly yet readable essays for lovers of the Pre-Raphaelites as well as those who want to learn more about them; for scholars of British art, Victorian culture, and the history of science

redstarBuron, Melissa E. Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters. Prestel. Jun. 2018. 256p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9783791357287. $65. FINE ARTS
In this accompaniment to an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, short essays by art historians examine the inspirations in style, subject, and technique that the 19th-century English Pre-Raphaelite artists took from the old masters. It’s widely known that the Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by Italian artists before Raphael, such as Sandro Botticelli, and the art of 15th-century Florence, and that is addressed here. But the essayists also demonstrate that the influence of early Netherlandish artists such as Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling had an equal impact on their attention to detail and the use of white ground beneath vibrantly colored oil paints. The volume cites Italian late-medieval author Dante Alighieri and Venetian artists such as Titian and Veronese, whose influence is prominent in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s artworks. Decorative arts are also explored in a piece on William Morris’s and ­Edward Burne-Jones’s inspiration and appropriation of medieval literature, forms, and motifs in stained glass, furniture, tapestries, and book illustration.
VERDICT With beautiful color images that make the visual connections among the art works and scholarly yet readable essays, this is for lovers of the Pre-Raphaelites as well as those who want to learn more about them.—Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Univ. Lib., MA

Holmes, John. The Pre-Raphaelites and Science. Yale Univ. Jul. 2018. 308p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780300232066. $50. FINE ARTS
At its founding in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, best known today for lush paintings of women, scenes from literature, and biblical stories, allied itself closely with science, and was committed to reforming British art by observing and rendering the natural world in detail. This academic exploration of this alliance discusses how it changed after the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On theOrigin of Species sent Victorian science in a new direction, from its roots in natural theology to the scientific method. Holmes (Victorian literature and culture, Univ. of Birmingham) divides his examination into two sections. In the first, exploring the Pre-Raphaelites’ “search after truth” from 1848 to 1860, as expressed in painting, poetry, sacred art, and architecture. The second section documents their work from 1860 on, when members pursued new aesthetic interests. The Brotherhood’s contribution to architecture is spotlighted in the Oxford University Museum (built in 1855–60) and London’s Natural History Museum (1873–81), in which the Pre-Raphaelites collaborated with leading scientists. With 150 color and black-and-white photos.
VERDICT For scholars of British art, Victorian culture, and the history of science. Also a solid companion to Elizabeth Prettejohn’s The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites.—Martha Smith, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY

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