14 April 2007

Ah, Art.

In Books & Culture, Timothy Larsen reviews two new books on the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Painting the Bible: Representation and Belief in Mid-Victorian Britain and William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and the other Pre-Raphaelites were rebelling against the high art conventions of their day. They stood for paintings that were infused with meaning, often through symbolism, and executed with realism and meticulous attention to nature. Their self-chosen name was a deliberate provocation: what if medieval art was in some ways better than that of the Renaissance? (Charles Dickens was sufficiently scandalized to write a satire in which he projected the emergence of a Pre-Galileo Brotherhood which would deny that the earth revolves around the sun.) And yet, the glories of the Renaissance notwithstanding, the way its artists flouted realism was assailable. John Ruskin, a seminal intellectual inspiration for the Brotherhood, objected that the apostles in Raphael's Christ's Charge to Peter were "a faded concoction of fringes, muscular arms, and curly heads of Greek philosophers."

The Pre-Raphaelites admired leading medieval religious painters such as Fra Angelico and Giotto for their earnestness and sincerity: they patently believed the Christian truths that their art depicted. Ruskin observed that art used to be a way of communicating faith, but the great themes of faith were now cynically employed simply for the sake of displaying artistic prowess. He grumbled about the typical modern artist who thought of a picture of the Madonna merely as "a pleasant piece of furniture for the corner of a boudoir." The Pre-Raphaelites wagered their artistic reputations and lives on the premise that it need not be so. In our irony-soaked, "post"-everything age, we need them. Most of all, we need Holman Hunt.

Have we lost beautiful, meaningful art like this forever?



Anonymous shay + said...

I've seen it!


17 April, 2007 19:53  

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