This thesis takes as its starting point the marked rise in interest in the earlier schools of Italian painting in the English art world during the 1840s. Over the course of this decade the study and collection of so-called 'primitive' painting was transformed from a marginal pursuit to an aspect of mainstream taste. The thesis defines the critical discourse formulated in order to rationalise the taste for art works which failed to conform to the principles which had governed the appreciation of old master painting in previous decades. It also studies the ramifications of this discourse with regards to broader conceptions of art history, both in works of criticism and in spaces of display. The discussion focuses upon the writing of A.F.Rio, John Ruskin and Anna Jameson. and the displays of the National Gallery, British Institution and Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. It is my contention that the taste for early Italian painting and the theories which supported it gave fresh impetus to the cause of popular education in art history; in terms of galleries at least, this manifested itself in a new concern with historiography in the composition and arrangement of public collections of ancient art. Acceptance of the discourse and the art it championed was far from universal, however. Objections and difficulties regarding religious denomination were persistent, due to the prominence of tensions relating to this issue in England during this period, and the fact that much ' primitive' art drew its iconography from Catholic dogma. In the 1850s, objections to the discourse on a conceptual level also mounted, and the revision of its tenets was widespread in works of criticism and literature. Particular attention is given to developments in the theories of Ruskin, the controversy which surrounded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and the positions taken in Robert Browning's Men and Women and George Eliot's Romula.

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