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The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

🎶 "Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves."

~Traditional, 16th century

Although the traditional tune associated with this English folk song may be better known as the tune for the 19th century Christmas carol "What Child is This," its original lyrics speak to a lover's lament. In the 16th century, green was a colour representative of "lightness in love," indicating an inconstant or promiscuous nature. Dante Rosetti's namesake painting, "Greensleeves" utilizes these intense colours and symbolism characteristic of the movement he founded on this day in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement, along with fellow painters Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Adopting more followers over time, this group of English painters, poets, and critics which sought an artistic return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art, rejecting the formal classicism of the mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and MIchelangelo. The Brotherhood's interest in history, medievalism, and nature had a significant impact on the artistic movements of the time, particularly in Scotland and on Scottish artists. Interest in their works underwent a major revival during the 1960s, with major exhibitions in the 1980s, a continuing influence on modern cinematography, fashion and photography, and via the modern revisitation of the fascinating and sometimes troubled lives of some of the artists' models and muses of this period, including Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris, Alexa Wilding, and Effie Gray. 🎨 🖌️ 💚

Today marks the 1848 founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  

 

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member "brotherhood".

 

The group's intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Its members believed the classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art, hence the name "Pre-Raphaelite."

 

The brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art. 

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti,  illustrator, painter and translator and the pimary founder,  was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

 

Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism.  Several portraits show ladies in green, including the one above, titled "Greensleeves".

 

Designed by Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan also recalls the colors associated with the Lady Greensleeves, the name of familiar ballad often assumed to have been composed by King Henry VIII.   Scholars note, however, that the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely Elizabethan in origin.

 

The first verses of many begin:

 

Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
To cast me off discourteously.
For I have loved you well and long,
Delighting in your company.

Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my lady greensleeves.

 

At the time of its likely origin, the word "green" had sexual connotations, most notably in the phrase "a green gown" which was a euphemism indicating the staining of garments in the green grass during lovers' trysts.  And in Chaucer’s age, green was also an indicator colour of lightness in love. 

For more on the Pre-Raphaelites, click the namesake painting for information about the Tate Museum's 2012-2013 exhibition.