Annual General Meeting and Founder’s Day lecture by Dr. John Holmes – ‘In Search of Pre‑Raphaelite Architecture’

The Annual General Meeting and Founder’s Day lecture entitled ‘In Search of Pre‑Raphaelite Architecture’ will be given by Dr. John Holmes on the 25th of October. It will take place in the Birmingham & Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham.

In the 1850’s the architect G. E. Street declared a common cause between the Pre‑Raphaelites and the Gothic Revival. It is easy to see a superficial parallel between the two movements. Both looked to medieval art for their models, and both drew support from the powerful prose of John Ruskin. But the bond between them goes far deeper than this. Street argued that public architecture should be a representational art in which the plan, forms and decoration of a building would embody its purpose and meaning. Like other Pre‑Raphaelite art‑forms, Pre‑Raphaelite architecture would be at once true to nature in its details and profoundly symbolic in its forms. The first building to be constructed on these new principles was the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The architect Benjamin Woodward consulted with Ruskin and Rossetti on its design and commissioned the Pre‑Raphaelite sculptors Thomas Woolner, Alexander Munro and John Lucas Tupper to carve statues of scientists to surround its central court, while the leading scientists on the project Henry Acland and John Phillips expressly identified the Pre‑Raphaelites as their model in the scrupulous truth to nature of its decorative carvings. The result is the first Pre‑Raphaelite public building, a magnificent collaborative work of art expressing mid‑Victorian concepts of science and nature. As the century unfolded, so Street’s Pre‑Raphaelite ideal of architecture was realised in a number of major public buildings in Victorian England, including his own Law Courts and the Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum, both built by Alfred Waterhouse, the most fashionable and prosperous of the high Victorian architects.

Dr. John Holmes is an Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Reading, the Co‑Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into the Humanities and Science, and the Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science. He is the author of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Late Victorian Sonnet Sequence (2005) and Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (2009; paperback 2013). He has recently held an AHRC research fellowship to work on the Pre-Raphaelites and science, and is currently writing a book based on his research.

For further details relating to the event mentioned above please email info@Pre‑Raphaelitesociety.org.

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