The Munich MannequinsLPC en galerías | Marzo 17, 2005
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, lasted only five years, but its style was absorbed by late nineteenth-century art and design across the continent. Inspired by Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelists sought to recover medieval simplicity and purity lost in the pagan luxery of High Renaissance art, typified, they oddly felt, by Raphael. Unlike their Decadent descendants, they professed collective social values. The only member of the Brotherhood whom I identify as already Decadent is Rossetti, whose Italian blood would out. But in all Pre-Raphaelite painting there is an unsettling tension between form and moral content.
Pre-Raphaelite painting begins with Keatsian ardor for the minutiae of organic nature. But instead of High Romance energy or dynamic process, we get Late Romantic stasis. Pre-Raphaelite art, like Mannerism, disturbingly avoids pictoral focus. Our eye is not automatically guided to the human figures but is forced to wander over the microscopic detail. Color is unshaded and applied in separate cells, as in Byzantine mosaic or Gautier's gorgeous color units. Flowers and blades of grass are brilliantly lapidary, the paint surface so richly worked that there is only a single step from Pre-Raphaelite naturism to Gustave Moreau's Decadent jewelled artifice. Everything in Pre-Raphaelite painting is seen too clearly. The eye is invited but coerced. Part triumphs over whole, exerting an uncomfortable pressure on the viewer. Landscape has an unnatural stillness, making it a Decadent frozen tableau. Sunlit panoramas are locked in Decadent closure, a Spenserian embowerment. Pre-Raphaelite painting deadens even as it celebrates. Persons and things are candied, mummified, miniaturized.