Past Events

Pre-Raphaelitism and Science


  • 19 to 20 March 2004
  • 9:00 – 6:00 pm
  • Tate Britain

Pre-Raphaelitism was deeply rooted in the scientific, religious and social cultures of its age. It also coincided with new ways of interpreting the physical world and fundamentally altered mid-Victorian approaches to the depiction of nature.

This conference coincides with Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelite Vision, which investigates Pre-Raphaelite representations of the natural world. The exhibition is the first to examine developments in painting and the new reproductive technologies of photography, alongside contemporary advances in science, geology and natural history. It explores the challenge presented by new discoveries and how altered perceptions of the physical world encouraged artists to adopt more empirical and scientific methods of investigation, both close up and further afield.

Women on beach with shore and cliffs in distance

William Dyce, Pegwell Bay, Kent - a Recollection of October 5th 1858, circa 1858-60

Digital image courtesy of Tate, N01407

Conference topics will include glaciers and volcanoes, meterology and costal erosion, botany and astronomy, archaeology and antiquarianism, religion and theology, empirical vision and the science of perception. Papers will address the work of painters such as W. Holman Hunt, Ford Maddox Brown, John Brett, J. E. Millais, Thomas Seddon, and J. W. Inchbold, photographers Francis Frith, Roger Fenton and Harry White, and theorists and writers Ruskin, Darwin, Lyell, Huxley and Louis Agassiz. Speakers will include Peter Barlow, Tim Barringer, Heather Birchall, Nicola Brown, Kate Flint, Michael Hickox, Carol Jacobi, Christopher Newall, Jonathan Ribner, Jason Rosenfeld, Alison Smith and Jennifer Tucker. The keynote address will be given by Professor James Secord, author of Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (Chicago, 2001).