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“Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Millais

John Everett Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') - Google Art Project

Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais

“Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Milla depicts the Holy Family in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The painting centres on the young Jesus who has cut his hand while assisting Joseph in his workshop. The composition contains much symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject.

The religious symbols in the painting include:

  • The ladder, leaning against the back wall, referring to Jacob’s Ladder
  • The dove on the ladder represents the Holy Spirit
  • The sheep seen through the door represent the future Christian flock
  • Jesus’ bleeding hand symbolises the stigmata and foreshadowing Jesus’ crucifixion. Some of the blood has fallen onto his foot.
  • A young boy, who would later be known as John the Baptist, brings in water to wash the wound, symbolising the later baptism of Christ
  • Joseph assistant represents Jesus’ future Apostles, witnesses this event

The painting was controversial when first exhibited, with many negative reviews, because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor. This portrayal of the Holy Family was in dramatic contrast to the usual view of Jesus and his mother, traditionally represented in Roman togas and traditional costumes. Charles Dickens accused Millais of portraying Mary as an alcoholic who looks:

“…so hideous in her ugliness.”

Critics also objected to and criticised this new and unique portrayal of Jesus. Because of the controversy, Queen Victoria asked for the painting to be taken to Buckingham Palace so that she could view it in private.

Detail of JE Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') - Google Art Project

The controversy catapulted the previously obscure Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to notoriety and was a significant contributor to the debate about Realism in the arts. The painting’s use of symbolic realism led to a broader movement in which composition was combined with realistic detail.

The artist, Sir John Everett Millais, was a Victorian-era English painter who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his home in London. Millais became a famous exponent of the style with this painting.  By the mid-1850s Millais was moving away from the Pre-Raphaelite style and developing a new and powerful form of realism in his art.

Christ in the House of His Parents or The Carpenter’s Shop

  • Title:                      Christ in the House of His Parents or The Carpenter’s Shop
  • Artist:                    John Everett Millais
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Date:                      1850
  • Style:                     Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:         Height: 86.4 cm (34 in). Width: 139.7 cm (55 in).
  • Museum:              Tate Britain

John Everett Millais

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“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” Queen Victoria

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Photo Credit: John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons