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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt

"The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple" by William Holman Hunt

“The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple”

by William Holman Hunt

“The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt was intended as a historically accurate depiction of the child Jesus debating the interpretation of the scriptures with learned rabbis. The painting illustrates a passage from the Gospel of Luke and depicts the moment at which Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple. Meanwhile, the rabbis in the temple are reacting 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 the tradition of this subject in art. Hunt was obsessed with the idea of revitalising religious art by emphasising ethnographical accuracy combined with detailed Biblical symbolism. He travelled to the Middle East to conduct his research before creating this picture. Hunt used local people as models, and he studied ancient Judaic customs and rituals. Difficulties with models delayed progress on the painting, and eventually, Hunt postponed it until finally completing it in 1860, back in England.

The inspiration for this painting comes from the Gospel of Luke, which states:

“After three days they found him in the temple courts,
sitting among the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions.
Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him, they were astonished.
His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this?
Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked.
“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

One of Hunt’s friends wrote a detailed pamphlet with an explanation of the content, symbolism and the characters in this painting. It was then shown in a series of successful travelling exhibitions at which visitors could buy the brochure and subscribe to an engraved reproduction. These exhibitions of this painting and its backstory proved a tremendous financial success.

William Holman Hunt

William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid colour, 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 true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximise the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.

Pre-Raphaelites

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 colours and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple

  • Title:              The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple
  • Artist:            William Holman Hunt
  • Date:             1860
  • Medium:       Oil on canvas
  • Style:             Pre-Raphaelite
  • Genre:           Religious art
  • Dimensions:  Height: 857 mm (33.7 ″); Width: 1,410 mm (55.5 ″)
  • Museum:       Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

William Holman Hunt

  • Name:              William Holman Hunt
  • Born:                1827, London, England
  • Died:                1910 (aged 83), London, England,
  • Nationality:      English
  • Notable works:

Explore Museums in the United Kingdom

London Museum

Edinburgh Museums

Glasgow Museums

Liverpool Museums

Manchester Museums

Bath Museums 

Birmingham Museums

Reflections

  • Shouldn’t we all pay more serious attention to the young people in our society?

Quotes about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement

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“All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.”
– John Ruskin

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“The greatest foe to art is luxury; art cannot live in its atmosphere.”
– William Morris

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“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin

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“Better by far, you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”
– Christina Rossetti

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“The past is not dead; it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
– William Morris

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“The artist has done nothing till he has concealed himself — the art is imperfect which is visible,-the feelings are but feebly touched, if they permit us to reason on the methods of their excitement.”
– John Ruskin

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“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”
– William Morris

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“When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.”
– Christina Rossetti

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“Love, which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart, seized this man for the fair form that was taken from me, the manner still hurts me. Love which absolves no beloved one from loving, seized me so strongly with his charm that, as thou sees, it does not leave me yet.”
– Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
– John Ruskin

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Photo Credit: William Holman Hunt [Public domain]

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