The Pre-Raphaelite art movement was conceived by a secret society of young artists studying at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1848. They focused their attention upon creating clear, sharp and realistic depictions of religious and mythological scenes, particularly those highlighting beautiful and famous women. Their style was grandiose, imaginative yet sincere.
The Pre-Raphaelites aimed to revive the style of Italian painters in the Quattrocento period (early Renaissance), as opposed to the then influential Mannerist style (which had been popular in the later Renaissance). The Pre-Raphaelites believed that this style (influenced heavily by Raphael (a High Renaissance master)), corrupted the academic teaching of art, and so the name Pre-Raphaelite was conceived.
Despite the Brotherhood parting ways in the early 1850s, the style remained popular and influential well into the later 19th century, and is still a point of aesthetic interest today. Some even claim that the Pre-Raphaelites were the founders of Modern Art.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848. William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner made up the seven man brotherhood. The Brotherhood's main endeavour was painting, but poetry and the critiquing of art was also a pursuit of its members.
The Brotherhood started to display their work in 1849, signing their artworks 'PRB'. They also published a literary magazine titled 'The Germ', which was published with the intent of further distributing their ideas.
In 1850, the Brotherhood experienced a wave of critical backlash after a painting by John Everett Millais, 'Christ in the House of His Parents' was deemed as ugly and downright blasphemous by numerous reviewers. Famous author Charles Dickens infamously critiqued that the painting made the family of Jesus Christ appear to be alcoholics, and that their poses were absurd.
Such criticism sent the Brotherhood on a downwards spiral in which they never quite recovered from, with the Brotherhood essentially dissolving in 1853. However, the term 'Pre-Raphaelite' stuck to the Brotherhood's members and became adopted by their future associates, as well as artists inspired by their style, thus the term 'Pre-Raphaelite' can be applied more liberally than to just art produced by the Brotherhood.
The earliest iterations of Pre-Raphaelite style are a far cry from the dreamy and ethereal image that the Pre-Raphaelites are known for today. Early Pre-Raphaelite style was heavily influenced by artists such as Botticelli (in fact, the Brotherhood wholly revived his popularity after he faded into relative obscurity after his death in 1510). There was a particularly strong Gothic influence on the Brotherhood's work.
After the Brotherhood split, the individual painters mostly deviated from their past goals of directly imitating Medieval art. Instead they focused their efforts into embodying nature and realism. Dante Gabriel Rossetti can largely be credited with evolving the style to feature its - now iconic - depictions of dreamy femme fatales.
The later Pre-Raphaelite style was characterized by striking lighting and it's detailed depictions of nature. Strong, vivid colors were also crucial.