One day in 1848, a trio of young Englishmen declared themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was an absurd name for a ridiculous idea. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, led by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, proposed to take art more than 300 years backward. They wanted art to return to the period before Raphael (1483-1520). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood thought they glimpsed utopia in the lost days of the High Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance.

“The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Through October 26, 2014.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a youthful undertaking. Rossetti was twenty years old. Millais was nineteen. William Holman Hunt was twenty-one. Indeed, the youthfulness of the movement cannot be overemphasized. In his preface to a collection of Pre-Raphaelite writings from the short-lived journal The Germ,… More…

 

Somehow the human race survived the Middle Ages, no mean feat when you consider how much literature was out there condemning sex. Church thinkers like Saint Jerome announced that carnal relations were “filthy” even within the bounds of holy matrimony: “The wise man should love his wife with cool discretion,” Jerome opined, “not with hot desire… Nothing is nastier than to love your own wife as if she were your mistress.” Intercourse for procreation was tolerable, the holy fathers begrudgingly admitted, but anyone who indulged in sex because they were in love or seeking physical pleasure was on a fast track to damnation. In fact, this attitude eventually led the Church to legislate on the most intimate details of married life: In 1215, the cleric Johannes Teutonicus was the first to announce that there was only one “natural”… More…