The Pre-Raphaelite artists emerged in the mid 19th century, in response to an art world they found conventional and stifling. A group of seven friends, they banded together and decided to return art to the compositional richness of Quattrocento Italy—pre Raphael! They valued nature, meaning, and emotion, and wove contemporary experience into the figures and motifs of medieval, mythical, and biblical times. “The Pre-Raphaelities are now so familiar to us,” says a curator at the Ashmolean, “that it’s quite difficult to remember that in the 1850s, they were considered completely radical.” This series of drawings and watercolors offers a window into their extraordinary world. —E.C.
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