San Francisco's Legion of Honor’s current exhibition, "Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters" explores how the visual arts look to the past for inspiration. In this case England’s nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fascination with medieval and Renaissance masterpieces. Founded in 1848, the seven young men emulated the jewel-toned color palettes of early Netherlandish artists including Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
Among the 30 works on display Van Eyck’s The Annunciation (ca. 1434/1436, National Gallery, Washington, DC). Gabriel, the Angel possesses extraordinary rainbow wings that shimmer with an iridescent glow. His elaborately woven scarlet vestment features an enormous dianthus flower. The virgin's ultramarine robes evoke heaven and reference wealth as the fabric dye was derived from precious lapis lazuli.
Also on exhibit is John Everett Millais’ oil-on-wood painting Mariana (ca. 1851, Tate Gallery, London). Tennyson's tragic heroine stands in front of a brilliant stained-glass window of the Annunciation wearing a cobalt velvet dress. Millais complimented the blue with a saturated vermilion textile on the walnut ottoman. The Pre-Rapahelites daring use of color still resonates today. Amid the sea of neutral interiors, some designers embrace the Brotherhood's bold tones translating them into the present and beyond.