British and Irish Literature Pre-Raphaelites
Heather Bozant-Witcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0187


In 1848 a group of poet-artists banded together to begin the Pre-Raphaelite movement in an attempt at artistic rebellion, meant to shock and destabilize. The initial members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) were, among others, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, William Michael Rossetti, and Frederic George Stephens. Of this “first wave,” all but W. M. Rossetti were painters. Taking the name “Pre-Raphaelite,” the group resisted the conventional techniques of the Royal Academy, opting instead to revitalize painting before the era of Raphael (b. 1483–d. 1520). Rejecting tradition, the Pre-Raphaelites returned to antiquated forms and reassembled those forms into something new. Although the Pre-Raphaelites began as a group of male painters, the works created foreground intertextuality, with poetry and art intertwined from the movement’s conception. In the 1860s a second wave of Pre-Raphaelites formed, associated primarily with William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, who shifted the Pre-Raphaelite agenda from realism to aestheticism. The “literary organ” of the Pre-Raphaelites was their short-lived periodical The Germ (1850). In its initial issue, The Germ identified literary, visual, and material art as an innovative means of self-expression through the study of nature, while embracing plurality and diversity. Traditional histories of the Pre-Raphaelites underscore the centrality of these male poet-artists; however, recent scholarship has sought to expand beyond the Brotherhood to locate a wider view of Pre-Raphaelitism that incorporates women poet-artists and associates, diverse sexualities, radical politics, and an emphasis on difference. In this vein, lesser-studied Pre-Raphaelites emerge: Elizabeth Siddall, Evelyn De Morgan, Simeon Solomon, Fanny Eaton, Frederic George Stephens, Marie Spartali Stillman, and Julia Margaret Cameron, to name just a few.

General Overviews

The popularity of the Pre-Raphaelites reached new heights and resulted in increased research with a 1984 exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. All of the overviews cited in this section are scholarly sources, and many are focused on the artistic aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism. Barringer 1999, Prettejohn 2000, and Prettejohn 2012 are excellent resources for students, providing comprehensive introductions and illustrations. Prettejohn 2012, in particular, offers a good balance between Pre-Raphaelite literature and art. For a general look at the members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and their associates, Marsh 2013 offers a highly readable and densely illustrated book of concise biographies. Cruise 2011 offers an innovative look at central Pre-Raphaelite figures and their artistic process. Interdisciplinarity is central to studying the Pre-Raphaelites, and both Latham 2003 and the Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies offer vast interdisciplinary approaches.

  • Barringer, Tim. Reading the Pre-Raphaelites. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

    Richly illustrated and concisely written history of the Pre-Raphaelite artists by a prominent art historian. Revised edition includes a section on photography, alongside painting and drawing, to establish the dynamism of Pre-Raphaelitism.

  • Cruise, Colin. Pre-Raphaelite Drawing. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2011.

    Offers an innovative look at Pre-Raphaelite drawings from public and private UK collections in order to illuminate compositional process, study, and influence. Offers an alternative perspective beyond the lush and vivid paintings to locate the central role of drawing and design in the work of Pre-Raphaelite artists.

  • Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies. 1977–.

    Peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal currently edited by David Latham, and published semi-annually. An integral source for recent critical debate on the Pre-Raphaelites.

  • Latham, David, ed. Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism in Honour of William Fredeman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

    Volume of essays conceived as a retrospective of the revival in Rossetti scholarship initiated by Fredeman’s Pre-Raphaelitism: A Bibliocritical Study (1965). Essays primarily focus on Pre-Raphaelite poetry and material culture, considering the issues of archival research, gender, and interdisciplinary cultural issues of “high” and “popular” art forms.

  • Marsh, Jan. The Pre-Raphaelite Circle. London: National Portrait Gallery, 2013.

    Easy to read and visually appealing, this brief introduction gives concise biographical overviews of the founding Pre-Raphaelites and their social circle. Originally published in 1998.

  • Prettejohn, Elizabeth. The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

    An engaging and insightful critical study of Pre-Raphaelitism, raising central questions about the group’s aesthetic and social identity, clarifying their “avant-garde” status, and opening critical conversations on social relationships, gender, and Pre-Raphaelite technique.

  • Prettejohn, Elizabeth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    Volume of critical essays exploring the lives of canonical Pre-Raphaelite members, and the first critical edition offering a comprehensive view of Pre-Raphaelitism, including both literary and artistic forms.

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