‘Reading Art’: Pre-Raphaelite Painting and Poetry

‘Reading Art’ is a three-month Cultural Engagement project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), organised by Dr Serena Trowbridge, Lecturer in English at BirmiBeata Beatrix (BMAG)ngham City University. The project is based at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), and will explore the literary aspects of their Pre-Raphaelite collection.
For the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and those associated with them, painting and poetry were sister arts. Many Pre-Raphaelite paintings were inspired by literature, and many poems were written to accompany paintings. The interest in and practice of these intertwining strands is one which was widespread in Pre-Raphaelitism, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William
Morris to less well-known figures such as Edward Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman.

The works in the Birmingham collection indicate this breadth of literary engagement, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix (1877), inspired by Dante’s Vita Nuova, to Edward Hughes’ Night with her Train of Stars (1912), based on W.E. Henley’s ‘Margaritae Night (BMAG).jpgSorori’. These literary paintings take poetry as their inspiration, depicting a figure from the text, and a particular moment in the poem. We see an idiosyncratic, personal image of what the painter saw as he read. Such literary depictions are common in Pre-Raphaelite works, and indicate the depth of artistic engagement with literature that the Brotherhood and their followers maintained.

This project aims for an enhanced understanding of the process and motivations of the artists who painted literary subjects, and will also explore ekphrastic writing, considering how poetry responds to art.

The Reading Art project will be supported by ongoing research, and will also hold a number of events. Research and events will be reported on this blog. These include:

  • a 2-day conference
  • a series of public lectures
  • student workshops on art and poetry
  • storytelling sessions
  • an online exhibition.

The project is still in the early stages, but if you are interested and would like to find out more or get involved, do follow this blog or contact me.