SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF PRE-RAPHAELITE PAINTING AND POETRY
I. NATURALISM. According to Ruskin, the love of natural objects (especially plants) for their own sake, and the effort to represent them frankly, unconstrained by artistical laws. It often took the form of REALISM characterized by:
A. In painting a richness, fullness, or WEALTH OF DETAIL modeled on the plenitude of detail in nature, and an accumulation, a redundance of ornament. In poetry the result was a heavy use of descriptive detail, often for its own sake, and often the cause of the great length of many Pre-Raphaelite poems; also explicit expressions of the love of plenitude in nature.
B. In painting the rejection of the previous chiaroscuro tradition and a desire for more scientific fidelity to color and light led to an ALMOST PRETERNATURAL BRILLIANCE of light and color and unusual distinctiveness, clarity, and delicacy of outlines. The same love of color, light and prevision can be seen in the wordpainting of Pre-Raphaelite poetry.
“They chased, as it were, all the year round over the bright valleys of the earth, their ideals of luminosity; from the backcloth of bright earth and sky they cut out, as if with sharp knives, square panels of eternal paint.”
Ford Madox Ford
II. NATURAL SUPERNATURALISM. According to Lang, the attempt to reject the philosophic dualism traditional in western civilization and unite the world of nature with the world of spirit, connect body and soul, real and ideal. Ruskin reflected this attempt in his emphasis not only on realism but on a unifying design and on nobility of subject and emotion, a goal sometimes called the moral aesthetic. It is reflected in the painting by a tendency toward symbolism or symbolic atmospheres and often by the choice of spiritual or religious subjects. It is reflected in the poetry by a similar TENDENCY TOWARD SYMBOLS WHICH ARE OFTEN MYSTERIOUS AND IMPLY SOME ASSOCIATION WITH THE SUPERNATURAL.
III. Various other features.
A. DELIBERATE MEDIEVALISM in the choice of subjects and settings in both painting and poetry, though classical settings also remain popular. In poetry also the use of vaguely medieval-sounding words.
B. Frequent use, especially in the poetry, of SUBJECTS THAT ARE INNATELY POIGNANT, MELANCHOLY, OR MORBID -- that is, a kind of decadent Romanticism.
C. Dramatization of extreme situations for the sake of HEIGHTENED SENSATIONS, as in melodrama.
D. According to William Morris, “the conscientious presentment of incident” -- telling a story: hence the frequency of literary subjects in the painting. In the poetry, not only this NARRATIVE TENDENCY, but also often the TENDENCY TO LEND THE TONE, sometimes the form, OF A BALLAD TO THE NARRATIVE: simple language for complex emotions, a consistent tone, plot disclosures, a refrain.
E. According to Morris, Pre-Raphaelite painting and poetry also has an ORNAMENTAL OR DECORATIVE FUNCTION: “a definite, harmonious, conscious beauty .. . . It ought to be possible for a painting to be part of a beautiful whole in a room or a church or hall.” In poetry this function is perhaps served by the tendency toward mysterious, unreal, incantatory reverie, toward a vague intangible mood created by colors and sounds alone, toward THE EFFECT OF A SPELL OR A DREAM.
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