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William Holman Hunt – Virtual Tour 

William Holman Hunt - Virtual Tour 

William Holman Hunt – Virtual Tour 

William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) was an English painter and one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founders. His paintings were notable for their incredible attention to detail, vivid color, and symbolism.

These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs.

Of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt remained most loyal to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximize the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.

Virtual Tour of William Holman Hunt

Highlights of William Holman Hunt

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple

“The Finding of the Savior in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt was intended as a historically accurate depiction of the child Jesus debating the scriptures’ interpretation with learned rabbis.

The painting illustrates a passage from the Gospel of Luke and depicts how Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple.

Meanwhile, the rabbis in the temple react in various contrasting ways to his questions and responses, some intrigued, others angry or dismissive.

This depiction of the child Jesus debating with the rabbis who respond with different reactions is part of this subject’s tradition in art.

Our English Coasts

“Our English Coasts” by William Holman Hunt depicts a flock of sheep lining Sussex’s picturesque coast. The scenic location is on the cliffs at Fairlight Glen, beside Covehust Bay near Hastings, called the Lovers’ Seat.

Hunt worked en Plein air at the location depicted in late 1852, despite cold and rainy weather. Hunt has paid scrupulous attention to natural detail and painted in many layers, with brilliant colors.

The painting combines features from different vantage points, with butterflies added in the studio modeled from life.

This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy under the title “Our English Coasts.” Still, the frame bore the inscription “The Lost Sheep,” and it was later renamed “Strayed Sheep” when exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil

“Isabella and the Pot of Basil” by William Holman Hunt depicts a scene from John Keats’s poem “Isabella.”

The poem tells the tale of a young woman whose family intends to marry her to “some high noble and his olive trees.”

However, Isabella falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers’ employees. When the brothers learn of this, they murder Lorenzo and bury his body.

Lorenzo’s ghost then informs Isabella in a dream. Isabella exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil, which she then tends to obsessively while pining away in her room. 

Self-portrait William Holman Hunt

Self-portrait by William Holman Hunt depicts the famous Pre-Raphaelite artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite School.

Hunt’s works were not initially successful and were widely attacked in the art press. He achieved some early note for his intensely naturalistic scenes of modern rural and urban life; however, it was for his religious paintings that he became famous.

In the mid-1850s, Hunt traveled to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works.

Hunt also painted many works based on poems. Hunt remained true to their ideals, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, throughout his career. 

He eventually had to relinquish painting because failing eyesight meant that he could not achieve the quality he wanted. 

Hunt died in 1910 and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England.

Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids

“A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids” by William Holman Hunt depicts an episode from early British Christian history, portraying a family helping an injured priest.

Hunt’s painting shows an ancient Christian family of Britons occupying a crudely constructed hut by the riverside. They are carrying for a missionary hiding from a mob of pagan British Celts outside the shelter.

A Druid is visible in the background on the left, pointing towards another missionary on the far right, chased by the mob. The Christian family is hiding a priest from a crowd of heathens and Druids.

The Druidic symbol of a stone hedge or stone circle is visible through gaps in the back of the Christian family’s hut. The Christian symbol of the red cross crudely painted on the stone is shown within the Christian family’s hut.

The druids’ presence identifies the period of this scene around the time of the gradual Roman conquest of Britain in the mid-1st century, making these missionaries very early ones and probably the first. 

The Scapegoat

“The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt shows a white goat with a red cloth between its horns. The goat stands on the salted shore of the Dead Sea. The background is an evening landscape with the setting sun reflected on a mountain range and a full moon low in the sky.

The desolate scene includes a skull to the left and a dead animal’s skeletal remains to the right. The painting symbolizes the “scapegoat” described in the Book of Leviticus.

In the Bible, a scapegoat is one of two kid goats. One goat was sacrificed from the pair, and the living “scapegoat” was released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities.

The concept first appears in Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert to carry away the sins of the community.

The Lady of Shalott

“The Lady of Shalott” by William Holman Hunt depicts a scene from Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott.” Hunt shows the moment immediately after the Lady has looked directly out of her window at Sir Launcelot as her fate beings to unwind.

In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady of Shalott is confined to a tower on an island near Camelot, cursed not to leave the tower or look out of its windows.

She suffers from a mysterious curse and must continually weave images on her loom without ever looking directly out at the world. Instead, she looks into a mirror, reflecting the people of Camelot who pass by her island.

She weaves a tapestry, viewing the outside world only through reflections in a mirror behind her. The painting depicts the scene in which the Lady sees Sir Launcelot in her mirror.

The sight of the handsome knight and the sound of him singing draws her away from her loom to the window, yarn still clinging around her knees, bringing down the curse upon her.

Self-portrait William Holman Hunt

  • Title:                  Self-portrait
  • Artist:                William Holman Hunt
  • Date:                1867
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Style:                 Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:     103.5 cm (40.7 in); 73 cm (28.7 in)
  • Museum:          Uffizi Museum

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt: A collection of 89 works


The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life, and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible, and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas.

The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848.

The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite.”

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

 Virtual Tour of Pre-Raphaelite Artists

John Everett Millais

William Holman Hunt

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

John William Waterhouse

Marie Spartali Stillman

Ford Madox Brown

Henry Holiday

Edward Burne-Jones

William Holman Hunt Co-founder PreRaphaelite Brotherhood 1827 – 1910

A Virtual Tour of Famous Artists You Should Know

William Holman Hunt – Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood

Women in the Arts

The Awakening Conscience: The Story of a Pre-Raphaelite Muse


“The door of the human heart can only be opened from the inside.”
– William Holman Hunt


Photo Credit: William Holman Hunt [Public domain]; 

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