Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why I Love the Pre-Raphaelites Robert Parry

There is a perception in England, not by any means unique to this country, that if a work of art is foreign or old - or, even better, if it is a combination of both of these, then it must be superior to anything we can ever produce ourselves. This was certainly the case in the middle of the 19th century when the British art establishment was frozen in time, ruled by the rather staid and predictable rigours of classical painting –works which arose either from the European continent or else from the many imitators closer to home. Then suddenly there emerged a group of young men with the glint of revolution in their eyes and who resolved to light a fire beneath it all. The thaw began, and the admiration for remote classical paintings that had really not altered much since the Renaissance was eventually replaced in England by an exciting new style and a radically new subject matter that we know today as the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

As the term suggests, the Pre-Raphaelites sought to re-connect with a form of painting that pre-dated the classical formality of Raphael – so returning to the simplicity and innocence, as they saw it, of the Medieval world. They did not wish to adhere any longer to the formal rules and strictures laid down by the art schools. They embraced, instead, a new freedom of style, and they seized upon the rich heritage of English art, English poetry and literature as sources for their inspiration - including the newly interpreted vision of antiquity described by the poet Alfred Tennyson, a contemporary of many of the young painters themselves. The result was a fabulous, extravagant and sensual genre of painting that features Arthurian knights and beautiful, elegant heroines; sirens and nymphs, and handsome Homeric heroes or noble seekers of the grail. There are also Shakespearian characters such as the tragic Ophelia or Lady Macbeth. And there is also the mysterious Lady of Shalott – drawn from Tennyson’s iconic poem and which was illustrated over and over again by the Pre-Raphaelites and others. This was a new style of painting rich in symbolism and allegory but with a natural realism and attention to detail not seen for centuries - nourishment for the brain as well as a feast for the eyes.

What has any of this got to do with my novel ‘The Arrow Chest?’ Well, the hero of the story is almost – but not quite – one of those very same fiery young revolutionaries mentioned above. He is in all but name a Pre-Raphaelite. He has enormous admiration for the history of old England and is compelled to become involved with the past in a very direct sense as the story unfolds. The title, by the way, ‘The Arrow Chest’ comes from the object in which the body (and head) of Anne Boleyn was buried after her execution in 1536 - a long time before the Pre-Raphaelite movement in 19th century England. How this strange alchemy of events from two different centuries happen to sit together side by side in the story is something that can only be revealed within the pages of the book itself. Most writers ultimately write either about what they love or what they hate. I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I love the Tudors and Elizabethans, as well. These were pioneers and revolutionaries who proudly celebrated the golden ages of English culture in which they lived. Why not take a look inside the Arrow Chest sometime - and see if you agree? It’s rather exciting, too, in parts – and nowhere near as dark and scary as it sounds.

About the Author: Robert Parry is an independent UK writer of historical fiction with special interests in Tudor and Elizabethan history, Victorian Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite art.

His debut novel, 'VIRGIN AND THE CRAB' first appeared in 2009, and his 2nd novel 'THE ARROW CHEST' was published in January 2011. Both are available in Paperback and on Kindle.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Robert's article regarding his love for Preraphaelite Art. I too share a love for this movement. His obvious passion and admiration for the artists, paintings, poetry, and 19th Century England shines through.
    I cannot wait to read his novel,'The Arrow Chest' it sounds like such fun~

  2. Kimberly, the novel is excellent. There are currently some giveaways going on for it. They are good for people living in the UK, Europe, Canada, and the U.S. See: for details.

  3. Always thrilled to read a post by Robert! And on one of my favorite subjects--Pre-Raphaelite art. I just cannot get enough of the endless beauty of the art of that movement.

  4. Hi Teddy,
    Thanks for posting this article by Robert Parry. It was definitely a fascinating era in art.

    P.S. Congrats on your BRAW nomination! This is a fabulous blog and definitely one of my favourites.

  5. Thanks Teddy. I ordered Robert's book already but I'll keep my eye out for future giveaway's~

  6. Michelle and History and Women, Robert is so good in his art, writing. Even guest posts. I'm looking forward to reading more by him.

  7. Kimberly, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!