Art and poetry

To understand Hopkins fully, we need to know a little about the popularity of art, especially painting and drawing. Hopkins was a very visual poet, who underwent some training in drawing. He would have been influenced by:

  • one of the influential Victorian movements in art, the Pre-Raphaelite school.
  • one of the most significant names in Victorian art criticism and theory, John Ruskin.

The influence of Ruskin

Whilst Romanticism privileged Nature, it was often at a fairly general level. Ruskin wanted:

  • an art that detailed Nature, just as the recently discovered photography could.
  • he expected artists to get out into Nature and see it as it really was
  • in some ways he was building on what the great English painters John Constable and William Turner had done
  • but he wanted artists to go back and look at medieval art before the age of Raphael (1483-1520) and Michaelangelo (1425-1564)
  • he believed that earlier artists had a perception of nature that had been destroyed by the later artists of the Italian Renaissance.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Pre-Raphaelite artworkA number of young English artists took Ruskin seriously, and formed themselves into a group they called The Pre-Raphaelite (Brotherhood). Some of the best known names were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt, John Millais and Edward Burne-Jones. Rossetti was also a poet, as was his sister Christina.

Hopkins thought a great deal of Christina's poetry, especially that she had managed to combine her poetry with a Christian faith, unlike her brother. Hopkins actually met her at Oxford once.

Pre-Raphaelite beliefs

The Pre-Raphaelites wanted poetry and art to go hand in hand. They painted very representational and detailed pictures, often taking biblical or medieval subject matter, and they became immediately very popular. More on art?

More on art: Most British Art Galleries that were founded in the nineteenth century have a good collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, and it is well worth looking at, either at a Gallery or on a website. It is still popular to-day, even if only at the level of greetings cards. Holman Hunt's picture of Christ knocking at the door is probably one of the most famous British paintings ever to be painted. It illustrates a Bible text, Revelation 3:20, about Christ knocking at the human heart, asking for entrance: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock…'
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