There has been a lot of talk about the Pre-Raphaelites this year. London housed the  J.W. Waterhouse – the Modern Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts this summer. It seemed like there where flyer’s everywhere. In Stockholm we had a major exhibitions called PRB, The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood at the National museum. On a huge poster outside the museum the sad eyes of Dante Gabriel Rosetti gazed out over the waters of central Stockholm.

Franny Moyles book Desperate Romantics – The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites” was published in January 2009 and was also made into a tv serie, Desperate Romantics shown earlier this year. And right now, on BBC four a brand new BBC documentary is being aired, called the pre-Raphealites.

2009 is certainly a year of the PRB.

The Brotherhood was a group of friends who acted against what they percieved as the poses and idiosyncrasy of art in their time. They wanted to present a more realistic representation of the world. They believed the mannerism in art was as a legacy of the painter Raphael – Hence they looked for inspiration beyond him: they tried to capture the spirit of the pre-Raphaelite art.

Trailer from the Nationalmuseum exhibition

The brotherhood had a great impact on the Arts and Crafts movement, at the end of the nineteen century but they are also remembered for their often very detailed paintings of medieval allegories and / or religious motifs. The dead Ophelia floating on water by John Millais or the famous Jesus the Light of the World by William Hunt in St Pauls Cathedral is great examples of their work.

Painting depicting Jesus standing with a lantern in his hand, knocking on a door

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”Revelation 3:20

Additionaly to paintings there where pre-raphaelite poetry. The cold autumn winds and piles of autum-colored leafs reminds me of this beautiful Autumn Song by Dante Gabriel Rosetti:

Autumn Song

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf
Knowest thou not? and how the chief
Of joys seems not to suffer pain?

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
Bound up at length for harvesting,
And how death seems a comely thing
in Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

Autumn is a time of loss. Summers end in a season of sleep and death. Parting is such sweet sorrow, as Shakespeare said, and in this poem the sweet sorrow is condensed to the moment in time when a leaf falls to the ground. I find the rhythm has a remarkable surge, almost with an inverted feel to it with the drumming rhythm of the first verse: Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf.

I sometime see this poem mistakenly attributed to Dante Alighieri. I’m sure Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s father Gabriele Rossetti would have been very proud. Gabriele was a famous Dante scholar of his days and translated the medieval poet into English. Gabriele gave his son the name of Dante in honor of the great Italian poet.

However, Autumn Song is a Rosetti poem from the nineteen century. Not a medieval sonett by Alighieri.