Charles Dickens takes the opportunity to use his majestic pen to criticize the Pre-Raphaelites for a failure to use their God-given talents for the purpose of exaltation of their subject and preferring, instead, to treat painting as a craft rather than art. When the noted novelist refers to the Raphaelites of the Renaissance as sublime artists with the power to etherealize the human face into something resembling the divine, he is making a direct comparison to the studied lack of such sublimity in the creative expression of the Pre-Raphaelites (Dickens, 1897). His later attack on the Pre-Raphaelites as skilled colorists of faithful portraiture also strongly hints at a critique more of values than artistry; a critique that seems to view them as abdicating artistry in favor of mere craftsmanship which apparently is to Dickens the gravest sin a creative mind can commit (Dickens, 1897).
It is interesting that John Ruskin concludes his initial defense of the Pre-Raphaelites by directly commenting upon an underlying basis of Dicken’s critique. The opening line of that concluding paragraphs reminds his readers that attention to detail in replicating draperies in paint not only isn’t a creative sin, but is a creative expression worthy of celebration (Ruskin, 1966). This oppositional perspective is noteworthy because later Ruskin’s defense will actually touch upon critiques of style that are not oppositional to Dickens at all; indeed, the critiques are quite similar. What sets the views taken of these two men apart is that underlying basis of criticism. For Dickens, commonness of style by the Pre-Raphaelites indicates a lack of judgment—almost a studied and purpose lack of judgment on the issue of the very value of art. For Ruskin, commonness of style are nothing more than moment lapses in ability; void of any greater meaning—much less any purposeful meaning.

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  • Dickens, Charles, and Frederic George Kitton. Old Lamps for New Ones, and Other Sketches and Essays, Hitherto Uncollected. New York: New Amsterdam Book, 1897.
  • Ruskin, John. “A Defense of the Pre-Raphaelites.” Realism and Tradition in Art, 1848-1900; Sources and Documents. Comp. Linda Nochlin. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-H966. all, 1