The Pre-Raphaelites and Science

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: English Literature

Abstract

The research for this Fellowship will form a major part of the first systematic study of the relationship between Pre-Raphaelite art in all its forms and science. The Pre-Raphaelites were the most original, experimental and influential of Victorian art movements, and they remain the most popular. The last year alone has seen major exhibitions of the Pre-Raphaelites and Italy, photography, drawing and design. It may seem counter-intuitive to link the Pre-Raphaelites, famous for their medievalism, to science, but they were the only Victorian artists to make this link repeatedly in their own manifestos, from essays in their early periodical 'The Germ' (1850) to Holman Hunt's retrospective account of the movement 'Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood' (1905). In such writings they argued that art should draw on and even emulate the sciences. Many critics have seen this as a marker of the Pre-Raphaelites' claim to being a modern art movement, but few have taken it seriously as a guide to how we might read their art itself.

I will be exploring in detail the different positions the Pre-Raphaelites took on the relationship between art and science, to see how far the claims they make for how art should respond to science are borne out in their painting, design, sculpture and poetry. During the Fellowship itself I will be working on four key topics.

Firstly, I will be working closely with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Natural History Museum in South Kensington to see how the Pre-Raphaelites influenced the buildings in which the Victorians put their scientific view of the natural world on display. Through the patronage of John Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites were directly involved in the design and decoration of the Oxford University Museum. I will be tracing this involvement in detail, to see how they helped to shape the building, both in practice and through their ideals. I will be looking too at how the Natural History Museum was shaped by Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics, particularly in the decorations that Richard Owen commissioned and Alfred Waterhouse designed for the inside and outside of the building. A close study of these two buildings will show how the spaces which we still use today to present our own scientific understanding of nature were shaped by Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic principles.

Secondly, I will be conducting an experiment in art criticism to see whether a fuller knowledge of what the Pre-Raphaelites said about science changes how we look at their paintings themselves. I'll be studying Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings in the major collections around the UK, including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Walker Art Gallery and the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I'll be working particularly closely with the Manchester Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum to devise ways of involving the general public and scientists themselves in this experiment, based on the existing models of their respective Pre-Raphaelite Experiment and Living Worlds exhibits.

Thirdly, I will be studying the papers of the Anthropological Society in the Royal Anthropological Institute to see how they bear on the poetry of A. C. Swinburne. Swinburne was a member of the Anthropological Society, at which scientific questions over evolution, race, sex, and the relationship of savagery to civilization were hotly debated between its foundation in 1863 and its merger with the Ethnological Society in 1871. This will be the first thorough study of how these debates are reflected in his poetry from the same period.

Fourthly, I will be reading systematically through the 'Fortnightly Review' from 1867 to 1873, to put the many Pre-Raphaelite poems published in this periodical in these years back into the context of its well-known commitment to positivism and scientific materialism.

Planned Impact

In addition to benefiting the academic sector through its contribution to knowledge and understanding in several disciplines, including art history, museum studies, science studies, literature and aesthetics, my research will benefit museums themselves, schools and the general public. It will be valuable too to artists, writers, scientists and others keen to work with and foster the interaction between the arts and sciences in contemporary culture.

The impact of my research will be predominantly cultural. My work on and with the Oxford University Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Manchester Museum will attract visitors to these museums, help to capitalize on their archives and other collections, and provide them with educational and informational resources. It will provide these museums and others with suggestions for how they may be able to capitalize further on their buildings as cultural objects in themselves, and to explore the interrelation between the nature of their collections and the history and aesthetics of their premises. The general public will also be able to benefit from my research through talks, exhibitions and displays at the Oxford University Museum and the Natural History Museum.

One of the objectives of my research is to determine whether viewing Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the light of science affects what we see in them. While for my monograph I will be conducting a largely historicist study, examining the paintings in the light of Victorian science and its place in culture, in my collaborations with the Manchester Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum I will be looking into ways of inviting the wider public to think about the Pre-Raphaelites' paintings in terms of what they themselves saw to be their scientific approach to art. I will be encouraging both the public and scientists themselves to ask how their paintings might make us think about science and nature today, and vice versa. The outputs related to this aspect of the project will fall outside the time frame of the Fellowship, but they will result directly from the work done during the Fellowship and will again be of interest and cultural benefit to the general public, as well as attracting people to the participating galleries.

Finally, my research will contribute to the wider project of encouraging active engagement between the arts and the sciences, with benefits to practitioners in both spheres who are keen to foster and explore this relationship.

Publications

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Description I have established that the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood entailed a sophisticated response to Victorian ideas of science as a progressive and increasingly accurate mode of understanding, in particular in terms of method, as the PRB sought to devise new approaches to creating art and poetry that could live up to the standards set by science. I have traced this process through close interpretation of their art theory, poetry, paintings and sculpture, with particular reference to ecology and psychology in their work, and also to their religious art in various media. In addition, I have shown how Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic principles were taken up in turn by the scientific community itself, in the design and decoration of natural history museums, in education, and in the periodical press. Pre-Raphaelitism therefore directly shaped the scientific culture of Victorian England, as well as the other way around.
Exploitation Route I am taking my findings further myself through collaborative research on and with natural history museums (NHMs), with an eye to informing and developing practice in exhibitions, public engagement, cross-fertilisation between science and arts, and architectural renovation. I have been working with Prof Janine Rogers (Mount Allison University) and the NHMs in London and Oxford, together with museums in Ireland and Canada, on a research project funded by the Canadian SSHRC, and with Dr Claire Jones (Birmingham) and the Oxford NHM on a Collaborative Doctoral Project on the sculpture and decorative schema of that museum. I have also been pursuing further collaborations on related lines with the NHM in Vienna, as well as establishing preliminary connections with those in Copenhagen and Berlin.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description My findings on how the decorations, architectural plans and elevations of the Natural History Museum in London embody a particular Victorian conception of the natural world have been used by the Natural History Museum in London in informing its comprehensive redisplaying of its collection over a twenty-five year period and the architectural renovations and extensions accompanying it. I have been consulted by the Director of Public Engagement, the project team working on the renovation of the Central Hall, and the architects working on the museum. One of the architects, Niall McLaughlin, wrote to me in an email in December 2016 'We have taken great inspiration from your writings and visits'. I have also been interviewed by the museum for an app which is accompanying their new exhibit in the Hintze Hall. My interview is available to visitors to listen to in connection with a new case displaying an exhibit on the architecture of the museum. I am hoping to take my collaboration with the museum further, and have been discussing how we might achieve this with the Head of Visitor Experience, Learning and Outreach. My findings have also informed the launch of a year of arts and engagement activity by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History under the banner 'Visions of Nature'. This involved arts exhibitions, commissioned poetry and a series of events. The project as a whole, and the poetry in particular, were informed by my research into the origins of the museum in the close collaboration of Oxford scientists and Pre-Raphaelite artists. (See Partnerships and Collaborations for more details.)
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Insight Development Grant
Amount $74,500 (CAD)
Organisation Government of Canada 
Department SSHRC - Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 07/2015 
End 07/2017
 
Description Where Art and Science Meet - AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project with Oxford University Museum (Co-I and second academic supervisor)
Amount £68,648 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2021
 
Description Building the Book of Nature: The Poetics of the Natural History Museum 
Organisation Mount Allison University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am the Co-I on a SSHRC Insight Development Grant working on and interpreting the architecture of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century natural history museums in England, Ireland and Canada. The project is comparative, and aims to enable the museum staff to make more informed, active and sympathetic use of their architecture in constructing displays and events. I have visited Dublin, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto to study the natural history museums in these cities, applying the interpretative method that I devised through my work on the museums in Oxford, London and Manchester for my AHRC Fellowship on the Pre-Raphaelites and science.
Collaborator Contribution The PI on the project is Prof Janine Rogers at Mount Allison University. We are conducting the research together.
Impact This collaboration has fed into my major monograph on the Pre-Raphaelites and science, and we have a co-authored article in press in Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Between us, the PI and I have presented conference papers in Toronto, Bern, Berlin, Warwick, Kent and Bristol. I gave the plenary talk at a symposium on Science in the Archives at the University of Reading in November 2015 and a work-in-progress session at the North American Victorian Studies Association at the Banff Centre in November 2017 based on the work for this project. The PI led a staff training session at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Feb 2018; I will be holding a staff workshop at the Oxford University Museum in March 2018; and we will both be participating in staff- and public-focussed events at the Naturhistorische Museum in Vienna in August.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with Oxford Museum 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have been working closely with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History since the project began in 2012. In addition to a sustained programme of public engagement events and the specific collaboration on the Visions of Nature year, I have been appointed an Honorary Associate of the Museum (since December 2016) and am working on preparations for events associated with Ruskin's bicentenary in 2019 and on a guidebook to the architecture grounded in my research. Since October 2017, I have been working directly with the museum and my colleague Dr Claire Smith at Birmingham as a supervisor on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project. I will also be leading a staff seminar on the museum's art and architecture in March 2018 as part of the programme of training events preparatory to the redisplay of the museum's collections.
Collaborator Contribution They have supported my research throughout, including providing me with the permission to use images of the museum from their photographic archive free of charge in my publications.
Impact See Public Engagement, Collaborations, Further Funding and Publications - the collaboration is integral to the project, so many of the entries under these sections are relevant.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Visions of Nature 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Over the course of 2016, the Oxford University Museum ran a programme of exhibitions and events under the banner 'Visions of Nature'. The programme was drawn up in consultation with me, initially in preparing funding bids that were ultimately unsuccessful. The museum decided to press ahead where possible. Besides contributing to the overall design of the programme, my role was: (i) to recruit three poets in residence (John Barnie, Steven Matthews and Kelley Swain), provide a historical and cultural background to their residency on the basis of my research, and to edit and introduce the resulting poetry anthology, including several Victorian poems; and (ii) to deliver a series of three public engagement events in December 2016, being Building the Book of Nature and Guests of Time (see Public Engagement for details), and Visualising Nature, a panel discussion on the ways in which scientists and artists have used visual techniques to understand nature across time.
Collaborator Contribution The museum organised and supported all these events, funded the residency for the poets, and also laid on three major art exhibitions as part of the programme as a whole.
Impact Guests of Time (Book - see Publications) Building the Book of Nature and Guests of Time (see Public Engagement)
Start Year 2014
 
Description "A Just Debt of Gratitude": John Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Oxford Museum (talk at Ruskin Research Centre) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions, discussions and correspondence afterwards.

In the light of my talk, the director of the Ruskin Research Centre offered to loan several exhibits to an exhibition which I am hoping to curate at the Oxford University Museum of the Pre-Raphaelite involvement at the Museum, as part of a wider plan to use this exhibition to stimulate contemporary art and poetry relating to the life and earth sciences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description A Cathedral to Nature (NHM Nature Live presentation) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Nature Live talk and live webcast on the design and decoration of the Natural History Museum.

I was interviewed for 30 minutes about the design and decoration of the Waterhouse building in front of a public audience at the Natural History Museum as part of their Nature Live series. The interview was streamed as a live webcast.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description A Pre-Raphaelite Museum (public lectures at the Oxford University Museum) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 2 public lectures at the Oxford University Museum, November 2012 and (as a lead event for Oxford Open Doors) September 2014

I gave a public lecture at the Oxford University Museum in November 2012 on my research on the Pre-Raphaelites' involvement in the design and decoration of the Oxford University Museum. It was well received by members of the public and museum staff. I was then invited to give the same lecture as part of Oxford Open Doors in September 2014, as well as to launch Oxford Open Doors itself as the guest speaker at the opening reception at the Museum. My collaboration with the Museum is ongoing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2014
 
Description Alfred Waterhouse: A Victorian Architect (Evolve article) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was commissioned to write an article on Alfred Waterhouse for Evolve, the Natural History Museum's magazine, which is aimed at visitors to and friends of the museum. This was published to mark the 150th anniversary of Waterhouse being given the commission to build the museum. It formed part of a sustained programme of public engagement around the architecture of the Hintze Hall in particular, connected to the refurbishment of the Hall and the new display of specimens within it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Building a Vision of Nature: Owen, Waterhouse and the Design of the Museum (Evolve article) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This article for the Natural History Museum's friends' and public magazine had become a point of reference for the team at the NHM working on the redisplay of the Central Hall and the Waterhouse Galleries.

I am currently a consultant on the project to redisplay the NHM's collections and to landscape its gardens with sensitivity to the architecture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Building a Vision of Nature: The Natural History Museum as Art and Architecture (talk to staff at NHM) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Life Sciences Research Seminar, Natural History Museum, London, Jan. 2013.

I gave a seminar to staff at the Natural History Museum on my research on the design and decoration of the NHM.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Building the Book of Nature 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Joint public talk on the architecture of the Oxford University Museum given with Janine Rogers (Mount Allison University), drawing on research for this grant and our SSHRC grant, and consisting of a joint lecture, a tour of the museum, and a pop-up exhibition of designs for the museum and its decorations by John Ruskin, Thomas Woolner, Alexander Munro, John Hungerford Pollen and others. This event formed part of the Visions of Nature project (see Partnerships and Collaborations).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Chipping Away at a Block of Stone Carving History (Conversation with artist at Modern Art Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was in conversation with the artist Sean Lynch as part of his exhibition at Modern Art Oxford inspired by the work of James O'Shea, who worked at the Oxford Museum. There was a lively discussion between us and with the audience.

I met with Sean a few months before to discuss my work, which became one of the stimuli for his own exhibition on O'Shea and the Museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Discovering Waterhouse (Pop-up exhibition at MERL) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture and pop-up exhibition on the Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading.

In the light of my research on Waterhouse and the Natural History Museum for this grant, I was invited to curate and present a pop-up exhibition on Waterhouse and his architecture at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. This included discussion of
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Guests of Time (OUMNH book launch) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public reading from the poetry anthology Guests of Time, marking the culmination of the poetry strand of the Visions of Nature project (see Partnerships and Collaborations). My own role was as editor of the volume, which included several poems I worked on during this grant. I also drew on my research in the introduction to the volume and the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description In Search of Pre-Raphaelite Architecture (Pre-Raphaelite Society Founder's Day Lecture) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk sparked lively discussion and debate.

Several members of the Pre-Raphaelite Society told me afterwards that I had offered them a new way of looking at Victorian buildings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Pre-Raphaelitism and Victorian Museum Decoration and Design (Courthauld MA class) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact MA class at the Courtauld Institute, London

I was invited by Dr Katie Faulker and Prof Caroline Arscott to contribute a guest seminar to their MA course in the History of Art after Dr Faulkner heard a presentation I gave on my research at the Oxford University Museum. The group of 7 students includ
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Recording for Natural History Museum app 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I recorded a brief interview on the architecture of the Natural History Museum to be available to visitors to the museum on a new app that will provide them with extra information to accompany the new display in the Hintze Hall. My recording will be linked to a case on the architecture of the museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description The Pre-Raphaelites and the Oxford Museum (Learning More... pamphlet for Oxford University Museum website) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The publication laid the foundations for an ongoing collaboration on the Pre-Raphaelite legacy with the Oxford University Museum

The Oxford University Museum education and public engagement team have used my work in their tours of the architecture of the Museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013