|Painting by D.G. Rossetti, depicting a scene from|
the Arthurian legends
By the 1840s, industrialization had been in full swing in Britain for several generations, and its effect on individuals and the environment was becoming clear. The Pre-Raphaelites looked back to the middle ages as a time when art and handcraft were closely linked, when people lived in small, rural communities, and when work, craft, and religion were still integrated. While this was certainly a romanticized vision of medieval England, it ultimately led some members of the group, notably William Morris, to espouse Socialism as a solution to the ills of industrial capitalist society.
|Morris (right) with Burne-Jones, 1874|
Morris was born in 1834 to a prosperous family living on the outskirts of London. He attended Exeter College, Oxford, where he met his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones and discovered the writing of John Ruskin. After college, in London, the two friends met Rossetti and were swept into the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites.
|One of Morris’s textile designs|
As Morris biographer Fiona MacCarthy notes, he was not interested in simply reproducing the past. “Medievalism for its own sake would have bored him. Through his researches into old methods and approaches he hoped to salvage something important for the present.” As Morris said himself of his approach to the past, “Let us study it wisely, be taught by it, kindled by it; all while determining not to imitate or repeat it, to have either no art at all, or an art which we have made our own.”