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…

“In my heart I thought that only beautiful things should be painted, and that only ancient things and the stuff of dreams were beautiful.” Yeats said that once in reference to the Pre-Raphaelites. It’s an absurd statement on the face of it. You can’t just hold out for beauty and dreams. We all know that. We all have to grow up, just as civilization has grown up, moving from the pre-modern days of myth and fable to the enlightened present, a disenchanted era in which we see the universe as it really is. Right?

“The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848-1875.” Through January 30. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Pre-Raphaelites weren’t so sure. In case you’ve forgotten, the Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists (the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren) in mid-19th-century England who decided that… More…