Nineteenth Century French Studies 31.3&4 (2003) 365-367
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Morowitz, Laura, and William Vaughan, eds. Artistic Brotherhoods in the Nineteenth Century. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2000. Pp. 205. ISBN 0-7546-0014-9
Artistic Brotherhoods in the Nineteenth Century explores the political, economic, social, and cultural conditions shaping the emergence of groups such as the Nazarenes, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Russian Ambramtsevo, the Primitifs, the Nabis, and the Visionists, among others. The emphasis of this collection of nine essays is on the concept of "fraternity" - the effect of the French Revolution upon the emerging artistic organizations known as "brotherhoods." As a result, many of the essays investigate the historical roots of fraternalism and the French Revolution's profound impact upon the individual's relationship to the state and to private and public spheres.
Artists also banded together to form brotherhoods because they resented the economic stranglehold of the Academies, which exercised increasing control in the training and professional accreditation of artists and their ability to exhibit their works. Brotherhoods instead chose to form a more communal lifestyle, looking to the past for inspiration and celebrating the group over the increasingly glorified individual. As co-editor and contributor Morowitz notes, these responses were both "radical and reactionary." As she explains in the introduction, "Aiming for a 'better tomorrow,' and promising an enlightened future, the brotherhoods took their vision from an idealized past" (2). They often looked to the Middle Ages for their inspiration, living in convents and adopting long, flowing robes for their dress. The brotherhoods formed, in their mind, a utopian society by excluding women, elevating male friendship as the ideal, and striving to replace what they saw as a corrupt marketplace with a communal, spiritualized artistic world. [End Page 365]
A particularly compelling component of the book is its engaging exploration of the homosocial nature of the brotherhoods. Morowitz's introduction examines the brotherhoods' striving towards a pure ideal, which "also indicates the fact that brotherhoods were habitually established in response to anxiety about a threat" (7). One of those threats involved women and the emerging suffragette movement. In eliminating women from the movement, "the ideals of beauty, tenderness and eroticism were salvaged by being transferred to the realm of men" (11). William Vaughan's essay discussing the first recorded brotherhood posits that "it is striking that this spirit of sharing" so characteristic of the early revolutionary movement in France was not extended to women (39). The emphasis on worldly corruption thus reveals itself in a retreat to an all-male community, where the relationships between the men have an elevated and sublimated eroticism; a "spiritual friendship" that takes on a mystical quality. Susan Waller also explores the homosocial nature of the artistic academies as training grounds for perpetuating a gendered notion of the artist, one based upon hazing and initiation rites that sound reminiscent of college fraternities and football teams.
One of the difficulties of determining what a brotherhood is stems from the myth-making surrounding it. Who determines what the brotherhood stands for? For instance, when looking at the artistic brotherhood known as the Pre-Raphaelites, which is more authentically Pre-Raphaelite - the "stunners" of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, or the pious paintings of William Holman Hunt? Jason Rosenfeld argues for a Pre-Raphaelite "otherhood," revealed in their use of each other in early subject paintings and portraits. As Rosenfeld makes clear, William Holman Hunt's two-volume history of the Pre-Raphaelites has shaped critical understanding of the movement. Hunt saw himself, rather than the more charismatic Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as the founder and shaper of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, which was an "insistently patriarchal construction" (72). Hunt's paintings focus on men and their relationship with each other, rather than with women. In many PRB portraits, tensions within the brotherhood can be seen through the use of family and friends as models. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was often used in the role of outsider or other negative roles, as a result of his dark, Italianate features, a role that is echoed in Hunt's memoirs. Role-playing thus takes...