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The Pre-Raphaelites and mid-Victorian art

Video transcript

so here we are looking at William Holman hunts Claudio and Isabella from 1850 and then Tate Britain this is you know 1850 so it's 2 years after the formation of the pre-raphaelite Brotherhood so we've got real pure pre-raphaelite style here not just style but in terms of subject matter also right how integrated text and image are here that there's text on the top of the frame as Claudio's line death is a fearful thing and Isabella's and ashamed life a hateful and then below in a beautiful kind of medieval script measure for measure the Shakespeare play that this is from and so what's happening is that Claudio has been arrested a little bit under false charges for impregnating his mistress though they're engaged right Claudio sister Isabella is about to become a nun and the man who's arrested and imprisoned Claudio has said you know well maybe if your sister agrees to sleep with me maybe I'll release you from prison and she refuses to give away her virginity remember she's about to enter a nun oh right she's very chaste she's very devout this has been interpreted as the moment when Claudio appeals to Isabella to save his life to save his life and she refuses although there are somewhat differing interpretations about exactly what moment I think there's ambiguity even in his reaction right but what's interesting for me is that hunt has chosen this really high-pitched moral moment where we don't know which way it's gonna go and in a sense we have to ask ourselves how would we act in that moment it's that key moment a thing that the pre-raphaelites loved to do that it's totally pregnant moment when I'm looking at that backlight and I see that cherry tree behind them that's in full bloom yeah and then did you notice what's between them there's that little spire of a church right that kind of rose between them and so you can't really blame for asking his sister to betray her chastity in her vows because he's gonna die I can give his life up for nothing and you can't blame her either for not wanting to do what she's asked to do and look at the way that he's portrayed her the look of concern on her face is struck nerd she's got her hands over his heart she's comforting yeah this is tremendous sense of responsibility that she feels and I'm noticing how close everything is thus these two figures that wall of the prison behind and actually I think hunt visited a prison in order to paint it directly from life there's an incredible amount of attention and detail in the rendering even of the insignificant I mean that's what's so extraordinary is the focus is not simply on the hands it's not on the face in fact one could even argue that the face is somewhat de-emphasize Claudio's faces in shadow as it looks at us which is a really interesting choice is in front of a brighter windows yeah they're backlit that's very extremely unusual but what that means is is that there's a very very even light throughout the entire image which allows our eye to meander down both of their bodies beyond the hands down his legs to the shackle and then as much attention is lavished on the chain on the boards of the floor on the brick that is exposed in the window frame on this the moss that seems to be growing on the stone I got the vividness of that stone in back of the lyre I mean you can really see the age in the where all of this is this idea that the pre-raphaelites have of not using academic formulas and this return to nature and it returns to the Renaissance primitives that pre-raphaelites so right looking at Northern Renaissance painting looking at the history of art before things became kind of so easy and formulaic and when artists were in a way discovering nature for the first time again after the Middle Ages if we look at the color it's nothing like we would see in royal academy paintings before the pre-raphaelites purple of his velvet leggings the the red of his velvet and fur-lined tunic and then what I find most extraordinary is the color of four presumably white robes there's no white in any way losing greens yellows and golds this is a kind of depth and intensity of color that would never have been possible before the pre-raphaelites so what that does for me is it is it creates a kind of visual parallel to the intensity of the emotion that's being represented here and in the sense of the emotional dilemma that's being presented here