The Pre-Raphaelites and Science John Holmes

Publication date:
26 Jun 2018
Paul Mellon Centre
308 pages: 279 x 229mm
150 color + b-w illus.
Sales territories:

This revelatory book traces how the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their close associates put scientific principles into practice across their painting, poetry, sculpture, and architecture. In their manifesto, The Germ, the Pre-Raphaelites committed themselves to creating a new kind of art modeled on science, in which precise observation could lead to discoveries about nature and humanity. In Oxford and London, Victorian scientists and Pre-Raphaelite artists worked together to design and decorate natural history museums as temples to God’s creation. At the same time, journals like Nature and the Fortnightly Review combined natural science with Pre-Raphaelite art theory and poetry to find meaning and coherence within a worldview turned upside down by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Offering reinterpretations of well-known works by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, and William Morris, this major revaluation of the popular Victorian movement also considers less-familiar artists who were no less central to the Pre-Raphaelite project. These include William Michael Rossetti, Walter Deverell, James Collinson, John and Rosa Brett, John Lucas Tupper, and the O’Shea brothers, along with the architects Benjamin Woodward and Alfred Waterhouse.

John Holmes is professor of Victorian literature and culture, University of Birmingham.

Winner of The British Society for Literature and Science Prize

“The author offers reinterpretations of well- known works through the Brotherhood’s focus on scientific principles in a society disturbed by evolutionary theory.”—The William Morris Society Magazine

“It is this now almost forgotten view of a ready alliance between science and nature that Holmes brilliantly recreates in his very sumptuously presented book”–Bernard Richards, Oxford Magazine

“One of the novel and rewarding aspects of Holmes's account is his combined treatment of painting, poetry and architecture (including sculpture) [. . .] This range of coverage, uniformly competent and incisive, is one of Holmes's chief achievements”–G.A. Bremner, Burlington Magazine

“John Holmes may be said to have achieved the near impossible in finding a little studied aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism and producing a stimulating book covering not only painting and architecture but also poetry and prose [. . .] There are other interesting themes and pockets of research in this judiciously illustrated study (half of the 150 plates are in colour), all benefiting from Yale’s impeccable editing and design”–Stephen Wildman, The Art Newspaper

“Perhaps one of the most valuable results of reading The Pre-Raphaelites and Science is that it helps to refocus the PRB firmly within the context of their historical and social milieu rather than treating them as, by default, an exceptional artistic movement which had only tenuous links to all the Victorian background noise from which they sought to extricate themselves”—Mark Jones, Pre-Raphaelite Society Review

Long listed for the Historians of British Art Book Prize