The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets and critics whose intention was to reform art by rejecting what they considered to be the mechanistic approach adopted by the Mannerist artists who followed Raphael and Michelangelo. Hence the name 'Pre-Raphaelite'. However, their immediate complaint concerned the continuing influence of the founder of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom they called 'Sir Sloshua' because of his formulaic and cliched approach to painting.
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The Pre-Raphaelites have been considered the first avant-garde movement in art, though they have also been denied that status, because they continued to accept the doctrine of 'mimesis', or imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. However, the Pre-Raphaelites undoubtedly defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, "The Germ", to promote their ideas. Their debates were recorded in the "Pre-Raphaelite Journal".
The central doctrine of the movement was that artists should seek to represent the natural world without preconceptions about what is artistically proper according to traditions and techniques inherited from old masters. Nevertheless, their early work was influenced by late Medieval art. However, Hunt and Millais soon moved towards greater emphasis on the detailed observation of nature. Rossetti's work continued to be influenced by Medieval art.
The group was founded in London in 1848 by three art students, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. Four friends and relatives also joined to form the seven strong Brotherhood. These were William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens.
The movement influenced the work of many later British artists well into the twentieth century. Rossetti later came to be seen as a precursor of the wider European Symbolist movement. His work also influenced William Morris, in whose firm he became a partner. Millais' work ceased to be recognisably Pre-Raphaelite after 1860.
It also influenced interior designers and architects, arousing interest in medieval designs, as well as other crafts.