Rossetti, Ruskin and Science

John Holmes has recently published two short articles from his work on the Pre-Raphaelites and science:

In an essay for a special issue of the Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, I discuss how Rossetti engaged with science in his early poetry. The Pre-Raphaelites as a group often identified science as a model for their art, but Rossetti himself was doubtful about this aspect of their project and disavowed any interest in or understanding of science in his own day. Yet his early poems make surprisingly frequent and inventive use of scientific concepts. Appropriately for a painter and a poet, the scientific concepts which most intrigued Rossetti were light and sound waves. Rossetti assiduously revised his poems, often eliminating these early interests from them, but if we go back to the earliest published versions, even of such a famous poem as ‘The Blessed Damozel’, we can see that he was much more engaged with science than he admitted.

The place where the Pre-Raphaelite engagement with science found its fullest expression was in the Oxford University Museum, where Pre-Raphaelite artists including Rossetti collaborated with the scientists Henry Acland and John Phillips and the architect Benjamin Woodward to create one of the masterpieces of Victorian Gothic architecture. The Oxford Museum is both a temple to science and a site of practical scientific learning. One of the artists most actively involved in the project was John Ruskin. Ruskin was both an influence on and caught up in Pre-Raphaelitism. A portfolio of twelve designs by Ruskin for windows for the museum survives. In an essay for the Ruskin Review and Bulletin, I show how these designs, drawn in 1855 before the foundations were laid, reveal Ruskin’s role in directing the carving of two windows in particular by Woodward’s master-mason, the brilliant James O’Shea.

To read John Holmes’s articles, click below:

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