Hunt’s trip to Bruges in 1849 with Rossetti, introduced him to a number of major Flemish art works, such as van Eyck’s The Ghent Alterpiece (circa 1430, St. Bavo, Ghent). Also, at this time, Grieve shows the Pre-Raphaelites came under the spell of the High Anglican party in Oxford (at least by 1849). Grieve doesn’t mention their application of typological symbolism at this time, but Landow does. At some time around 1851 – 1852, Hunt converted to Christianity and in 1854 during a trip to the Holy Land this further deepened.

Hunt, A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids (1859 – 1850, Ashmolean).

Landow focuses in detail upon A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids predominantly to answer the question of how Hunt could paint such a picture prior to having a personal faith. Landow reminds us that Hunt put aside Christ and the Two Mary’s due to not believing in the subject. The crux of the matter being how Hunt applied typological symbolism, as opposed to Hogarthian iconography, between 1851 – 1853, and what was it about his travels which triggered the adoption of typology as an aesthetic resolution.

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt ‘Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’)’, 1849–50
Millias, Christ in the House of his Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) (1849 – 1850, Tate).

What follows is a wonderful analyses of Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents (1849, Tate) which draws upon prefigurative typology (the blood and the sheep, although technically the sheep are scriptural references not typological symbolism). Grieve interestingly places the sheep within a Tractarian construction of Ecclesiological controversies and he argues that the position of these sheep recalls Tractarian demands that ‘the laity should be separated from the clergy and that some religious knowledge should be withheld’.[1] Landow affirms Grieve’s description of the space within the carpenters dream as being that of a ‘roodscreen and the room itself as the sanctuary with the table occupying the place of the altar’.[2] Church politics, High Church politics at that, are abundantly compressed within the painting, as are references to mass, the trinity, the crucifixion etc. ‘The very nature of the subject requires that unless we assume that the painter is making use of a grotesque, frivolous conceit, we must recognize its full symbolic implications’.[3] In contrast, A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids can be understood without appreciating typological symbolism.[4] In an accompanying pamphlet, Hunt goes to extraordinary lengths to justify the work’s authenticity and accuracy by referencing Tertullian, discussing illuminated manuscripts and performing an etymological breakdown on the name Winchester (which signifies ‘wine camp’ etc. which therefore, validates Hunt’s depiction of a grape vine). Extraordinary! Landow suggests the prefigurative pose of the ‘saved’ Priest may have been a reference to works he saw when in Northern Europe. The other details of the painting do not function typologically, like Millais’, they are more ‘general’. Hunt’s description, which Landow includes, of the opposing ideologies referenced in the inclusion of the fisherman’s net juxtaposes Christians as fishers of men, and the Druids who held the fish as sacred and forbade fishing.[5] Landow considers the decision to not focus upon Christ, as Millais did, was due to Hunt’s lack of faith. As such Landow disagrees with Grieve’s reading of the work as a piece of Tractarian propaganda; concluding that prior to believing in a ‘divine religion’ Hunt was more interested in experimenting with Hogarthian forms of symbolism. Hunt’s religious experience, he declared, was most keenly recorded in The Light of the World, and after his trip to the Middle East. ‘For once he became a devout Christian, typology became the natural mode of communicating what he believed important in life and art’.[6] In The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple Hunt played with the spaces, in relation to the Sacred quality of them, segregating the old and the new, and the painting is a record of Hunt’s feelings about the encounters of the old and the new.

In The Finding of the Saviour (1860, BMAG) the Rabbi represents the Pharisees who refused to believe in Christ. F.G. Stephens writes a wonderful passage which examines in detail. Each individual character and focuses upon the ‘old order’ versus the ‘new’, and concludes that Hunt’s Art Catholic has an ‘infinitely wider appeal’ to it, although this approval was not evident in all criticism. Landow suggests Hunt’s reception of negative criticism would have been to align those dissenters with the Rabbi who refused to believe in Christ. Both Hunt, through his brush, and Stephens, through his pen, considered the aesthetic to be the English one which was not only desirable, but demanded. Hunt had successfully generated a new form of Sacred Art, one which William Michael Rossetti was calling for in his The Externals of Sacred Art. Sacred Art could be said to equate to Sacred Realism in Hunt’s hands. To precis a reviewer whom Landow quotes: The old way of painting religious pictures was to make a picture unearthly so the divine could be sought; the Pre-Raphaelite way was to show the real was to behold wonder of the divine. [7]
Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour (1860, BMAG)

Archaeology, authenticity, and ‘truth’ were important to Hunt, as was his symbolic / spiritual intention; Hunt had a desire to make his viewers read, see and feel. The periodical Once a Week felt the painting was an ‘absolute vindication of their [Pre-Raphaelite] principles’.[8] For the first time in the main body of the text, Landow references Legal typology (which you can find introduced in P1) and he gives a little more substance to its definition (e.g. the lamb as sacrifice, the child as levitical practice or legal type).

The main point to take from this is that Landow and reviews such as that in Once a Week felt Hunt’s sacred realism opened the potentiality of spiritualism and communion with the divine, through ‘showing us as truly as possible the real’. Landow suggests Hunt was attempting to make us not only understand but to see (to make real) Christ’s first encounter with the (old) Law (the Pharisees). Palgrave sees the image as being ‘the turning-point from prophecy to fulfilment; the child’s first consciousness of who he is…the revelation of himself to himself’.[9]

One particularly interesting link which Landow references but does not pursue in any particular depth (mostly because it is outside of his objective within examination of typological symbolism) is the concept of round disc shapes within Pre-Raphaelite imagery. Landow relates this to possible symbolic scenes as appear in Coecke’s The Last Supper (1528, Brussels) but I wonder whether the muted narrative of the Pre-Raphaelite mirror has a more involved, textual, scriptural, meaning. In The Finding of the Saviour the disc behind Joseph’s head refers to Malachi 3:1 And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his Temple. As Ruskin’s Tintoretto analysis shows, it is common practice to read meaning from objects such as the stones of architecture, so why not more decorative ones also? If the cornerstones relate to Psalm 118, how may circular discs relate to the spheres or bubbles found in works like Hunt’s The Triumph of the Innocents (1883 – 1884, Tate) or Burne-Jones The Days of Creation (1870 – 1876, Harvard). Are these spheres muted scriptures? What message do they carry?

The Dove (the Holy Spirit) enters the temple by the disc, and droplets of water appear to have become part of the fabric of the pattern on the gold. This is an interesting section of the image which Landow reads as being a parallel between the person trying to drive the doves out of the temple with those who resist Christ. If this detail driving out is there, and I cannot discern it, it is not emphatic enough to be a deliberate parallel, or a narrative device. There many other details which Landow focuses on to build his argument, e.g. the decoration of the frame with its heartseases (symbols of peace) and the serpent (representing old, even Pagan law). Landow sees the symbols reinforce each other and serve as a reminder that the ‘head stone of the corner’ being worked upon to the right of the image, outside of the temple, confirms or rather predicts Christ’s position as the Redeemer.[10]

As someone who was not a member of the High Church, Hunt’s symbolism functions differently to his Pre-Raphaelite brothers. I wonder if this accounts for the difference between Hunt’s lack of angels, and Rossetti’s consistent depiction of them? Does Hunt’s typological symbolism keep the angels at bay? Why are there no Annunciations or Resurrections produced by Hunt? The Shadow of Death is the nearest thing to a crucifixion, and Landow bravely suggests The Finding of the Saviour could be considered a form of annunciation; Christ revealing to himself who he is for the first time. Whilst Landow is a little trepidatious at extending this metaphor too far, it is a valuable theory. The absence of Marian paraphernalia is noted by Landow though, and he is right to tread carefully with the application of this metaphor even allowing for Northern Renaissance Annunciation symbolic details (which Landow does not discuss or justify sufficiently).[11] Landow suggests The Finding of the Saviour stands as a much transformed version of the older annunciation theme. The angelic body then, is muted.

[1] Grieve, The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Anglican High Church, p. 294

Is it possible that the angels which feature in Pre-Raphaelitism also stem from this concept of separation / mediator.

[2] Grieve, The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Anglican High Church, p. 294

[3] Landow William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1979) page 65.

[4] An interesting pamphlet, which Hunt was want to produce, was written for Thomas Combe in 1850. Combe was an Oxford based Anglican collector, and bequeathed many items to the Ashmolean.


[5] Landow, page 70.

[6] Ibid, page 75.

[7] Ibid, page 94.

[8] Stephens, William Holman Hunt and his Works, page 101 (quoted in the appendix from the review of 14, July 1860).

[9] Landow, page 90.

[10] Stephens, William Holman Hunt and his Works, page 59 – 60

[11] Landow discusses the blind beggar outside as a parallel to the blind Pharisees within the temple, however, that is not a typical Northern Renaissance Annunciation detail). It is also worth noting that Marian themes were not given the same emphasis of importance to radical Protestant’s like Hunt, as they were to Anglicans like Rossetti.