Past Events

The National Gallery and the English Renaissance of Art

Lecture – Elizabeth Prettejohn

  • 17 January to 13 February 2011
  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm
  • Sainsbury Theatre, National Gallery, London

On his famous lecture tour of 1882 Oscar Wilde told American audiences about a ‘great English Renaissance of Art’, which had begun with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and was flourishing in the work of their successors. ‘I call it our English Renaissance’, he explained, ‘because it is indeed a new birth of the spirit of man, like the great Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century’.

Sepia photograph of a man with large beard

David Wilkie Wynfield, Portrait of Frederic Leighton in Renaissance costume,

Victorian artists have often been castigated for their dependence on prototypes and precedents from the Old Masters. This lecture series takes its cue instead from Wilde, who saw no inconsistency between the idea of a ‘new birth’ and the inspiration of the past. With the formation of the National Gallery in 1824, and the subsequent proliferation of exhibitions, reproductions, and scholarship on the Old Masters, the art of the past became visible and accessible as never before. Yet the history of art did not come ready-made to the Victorians. Such artists as van Eyck, Bellini, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, and Velázquez came to the National Gallery with the force of novelty. They were interpreted by the great Victorian critics, curators, and scholars – and importantly, as these lectures will argue, by such artists as Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Millais, and Leighton. The lectures will explore how the art of the past and the art of the present came to illuminate one another in the Victorian period.

Lecture Programme

  1. The Victorians and the Masters (17 January)
  2. Artist and Mirror: Pre-Raphaelites and Others (24 January)
  3. ‘Buried fire’: Finding the Early Renaissance (31 January)
  4. A Taste of Spain (7 February)
  5. Postscript: On Beauty and Aesthetic Painting (14 February)

About the speaker

  • Liz Prettejohn

    Liz Pretejohn is a Professor of History of Art at the University of York. She has worked as Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery and held chairs at the Universities of Plymouth and Bristol.

    Prettejohn is an active guest curator and has co-curated exhibitions on Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John William Waterhouse. In 2011 she gave the Paul Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery, London, on ‘The National Gallery and the English Renaissance of Art’.