George Landow’s formidable reputation, his contribution to Pre-Raphaelite research, his generous digital democritization, is a gift. A Professor at Brown University, and having lectured all over the world it is a great relief to find the writing style of Landow accessible, insightful and provoking. In a world where many art historical texts are so overly complex, elitist, ostracising or so deliberately pompous as to render themselves utterly pointless and defunct, it is a refreshing change to find a book which thirty five years after its publication still reads well, but has yet to be taken up in any meaningful sense by the new generation of art historians.

Landow’s most significant book (for me at least) is his William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1979). Below is my attempt to surmise Landow’s work.

Landow introduces his book with the quote that Hunt intended ‘to elevate materialism by mysticism, and to make even the accessories of an inanimate realism instinct with spiritual symbolism’. Essentially, Landow agrees with this premise – as do I. Hunt was attempting ‘to create a modern pictorial symbolism that would solve the problems he found inherent in realistic styles’.[1] Hunt always focused upon morality, religion and realism; marrying the three together within his aesthetic. Landow says it was Hunt’s refusal to relinquish any aspect of painting which is of interest to the twentieth (now twenty first!) century.[2]

Truth was an important factor for Hunt, both artistic, moral, and spiritual truth. These aspects were more pressing due to the religious instability of the nineteenth century at that time. Landow considers him as someone who refused to accept the loss of belief, the cultural fragmentation, and the sheer lack of confidence that made the Victorians the progenitors of the modern age. Landow approaches his work under the auspices of Hunt being an arch conservative with the addendum that this makes him both better suited to medievalism and seem modern. This is a tad elastic for my liking, but Landow describes Hunt as a man ‘of an idea’, an uncompromising extremist.[3] Landow suggests the sheer originality and extremism of Hunt’s works makes him worthy of considering as belonging to the foundations of modern art.

The bridge between realism and modernism stems from Ruskin and Ruskin’s interpretation of Tintoretto’s The Annunciation (1582, Scuola di San Rocco, Venice). In this passage Ruskin refers to typological symbolism which appealed to Hunt, and offered a means of resolving many problems which had been troubling him. The symbolism of the component parts was a ‘natural language’ which draw the eye toward to religious vision within the works. This, Landow says, was gold dust to Hunt. It certainly seems to have been and many of the works Landow goes on to discuss can easily be read in this manner. In Landow’s words, typology ‘would allow Hunt to reconcile his love of detailed realism with his need to make painting depict the unseen truths of the spirit. This approach was presumably further reinforced when Ruskin and Hunt travelled to the Scuola di San Rocco together in 1869.

I would also interject that much of Hunt’s interpretation (of Ruskin, of Tintoretto, and his presentation of his own work) is related to the understanding and the resistance or disapproval Hunt felt at the way the Church was being managed. His misgivings certainly gain in their resistance as times go by, for he rejects the State’s intention to amalgamate the Greek Church with the Anglican.

Landow describes Ruskin as ‘decipherer’ as John the Baptist, revealing the true meaning of old truths’; a potentially dangerous and arrogant play with words, but one which also maintains the construction of the artist as prophet.[4] Landow reiterates Hunt’s powerful identification with Ruskin’s writing on Tintoretto’s The Annunciation by referencing Hunt’s own memoiric writing. This was during a time when Rossetti was more concerned with Dante and French literature, ‘and Millais never read anything altho’ he had a real genius in getting others to tell him the results of their reading and their thoughts thereon’.[5] The encounter with Ruskin’s work is important because it led him toward a faith (which he had not had prior to this time but took up with passion from the 1850s).[6] Whilst typology was a known approach to Scripture, it was the particular application Ruskin offered which opened aesthetic opportunities up for Hunt; Landow reiterates the central importance is derived from Ruskin’s ‘explication of typological symbolism which reconciled realism with elaborate iconography’. [7]

For clarity, I include the Thomas Hartwell Horne text which was standard reading for English divinity students, and is referenced by Landow,

A type, in its primary and literal meaning, simply denotes a rough draught, or less accurate model, from which a more perfect image is made: but, in the sacred or theological sense of the term, a type may be defined to be a symbol of something future and distant, or an example prepared and evidently designed by God to prefigure that future thing. What is thus prefigured is called the antitype.[8] Landow goes on to explain Horne’s definitions for the three types (legal, prophetical and historical), and I paraphrase him here:

Legal

Hunt, Melchizedek (1865, British Museum).

On comparing history and economy of Moses with the whole of the New Testament it becomes apparent that ritual law was typical [typologically prefigurative] of the Messiah and Gospel blessings.

Example works: The Scapegoat, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, The Triumph of the Innocents.

Prophetic

E.g. Psalm passages such as those about the cornerstone, ‘are those by which the divinely inspired prophets prefigured or signified things either present or future, by means of external symbols’.[9]

Example works: Landow does not offer any, but by suggestion includes Tintoretto’s The Annunciation. Hunt predominantly relies on this typology, e.g. The Shadow of Death.

Historical

The ‘characters, actions, and fortunes of some eminent persons recorded in the Old Testament, so ordered by Divine providence as to be exact prefigurations of the characters, actions, and fortunes of future persons which should arise under the Gospel dispensation’.[10] Abrahamic imagery for example. Or also those who oppose Christian truth in later ages, e.g. A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids.

Example works: Melchizedek, A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids

Typology, unlike allegory, can be said to be the figure and its fulfilment. Allegory interprets one thing as signifying another whereas ‘typology trace the connections and similarities between to unique events, each of which is equally real’.[11] Landow is agreeing with Auerbach who says ‘a figural scheme permits both its poles – the figure and its fulfilment – retain the characteristics of concrete reality’.[12] This is an important distinction from allegory as ‘it preserves its literal and historical meaning’.[13] These distinctions were laboured during Hunt’s life, e.g. by authors such as Patrick Fairbairn who expressed typology in the above terms for the purpose of seeking higher truths.[14] Type and its fulfilment are both required for meaning to be fully explicitly stated and understood, neither one recedes once meaning has been received. Typology was widespread and orthodox, it was an accepted mode of communication and understanding within the Church context. Landow confirms his position as one which seeks to unveil the layers of meaning in order that the greatness of a work may be appreciated and understood. The High Church party practiced this, and Evangelical Anglicans (like Hunt) did so more. The practice of reading was one which suited the narrative approach of the Pre-Raphaelites, and reflected the writing style of Carlyle and Ruskin (e.g. where he allegorized the laws of geology as a divinely intended emblem of human political relations) – a form of his ‘Nature-scripture’).[15] Hunt utilised all these elements in an aesthetic which focused on conversion, illumination, and sacred realism.

[1] Landow William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1979) page 1.

[2] Ibid., page 1.

[3] Ibid., page 2.

[4]  Ibid., page 5.

It is also worth reminding ourselves that Ruskin had a ‘deconversion’ when stood before The Queen of Sheba in 1858.

[5] Something which Thomas Rooke also says of Burne-Jones.

[6] Hunt’s religious beliefs probably best described as Evangelical mixed with Broad Church Protestant (see Landow, page 17).

[7] Landow, page 7.

[8] Landow, page 7 and 8. See also:

A Compendious Introduction to the Study of the Bible, 9th ed. (London, 1852), p. 184. Which states it is ‘an analysis’ or condensation of Horne’s Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

[9] A Compendious Introduction to the Study of the Bible, 9th ed. (London, 1852), p. 184.

[10]  Ibid., p. 184.

[11] Landow, page 9.

[12] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 1953), pp. 195 – 6.

[13] Ibid., pp. 195 – 6.

[14] Fairbairn’s Typology of Scripture went through five nineteenth century editions.

[15] Landow, page 15. The Scapegoat may be an example of this, as is Stanhope’s Hagar in the Wilderness (1874, Marlborough College, Wiltshire).

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