Millais & The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Before I go ahead and talk about the painting I chose, I think it best to elucidate a bit on the style.

The Pre-Raphaelites

The Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites was founded by a group of painters, poets and critics that believed that the Classical compositions, those of Raphael in particular, had been corrupting; hence, the name Pre-Raphaelite. They were objectors to the influence of the English Royal Academy of Arts, whom they considered conventional and conformist. In contrast, they wanted to return to the detailed and colorful compositions of the Italian and Flemish Quattrocento.
Their work was considered controversial in part because they had kept their existence a secret until their first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1849. However, it was their rejection of the conventional style, the use of a common signature of P.R.B. (which obviously stood for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), and the “reality” of the subjects portrayed which caused outrage among the critics.

So, as you see my choice is actually controversial itself as the movement, along with many of the works –including my pick-, was “apparently” morally offensive within the social context of that period.

Christ in the House of His Parents Sir. John Everett Millais

Jesus has cut his hand on an exposed nail, while assisting Joseph in his work. The cut recalls the stigmata and therefore anticipating his crucifixion. After Saint Anne has removed the nail with a pair of tongs, Mary offers her cheek for a kiss while Joseph examines the injury. Young John the Baptist, on the left, brings water to wash the wound, foreshadowing his baptism of Christ. Another carpenter, an assistant and probably a future apostle, watches. In the background there are various elements that suggest the theological significance of the subject.

Charles Dickens was particularly harsh in his critique and referred to it as “mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting”. He also accused Millais of portraying Mary as an alcoholic. Other critics also disliked the fact that the painting portrayed Joseph with realistic carpenter hands, having in fact used an actual carpenter as a model. They also objected to the portrayal of Jesus “as a red-headed Jew boy”.

Funny Fact: This painting was so controversial that Queen Victoria asked to view it privately!

I chose this painting because it was highly criticized, and because I have been enamored with the Pre-Raphaelites for quite a while now. Not only are they aesthetically realistic (even within mythological contexts) but I believe that controversial paintings like this one promoted positive social change as they brought the audience out of conventional settings and into realistic scenarios. In fact I believe that those elements of contravery made the list of Pre-raphaelites grow even though the Brotherhood was actually short-lived. The meaning and the work that was put into this piece of art are exceptional, far from conventional and ordinary.


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