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 has a plethora of symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject. The most interesting aspect of this painting was how controversial it was when it was first exhibited. It received many negative reviews, because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor.
The portrayal of the Holy Family, in the painting, 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.
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 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
John Everett Millais
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.
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.
The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from life and literature. They 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, they created a distinct name for their art and published a periodical to promote their ideas. And later, the medievalising influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.
John Ruskin had influenced the Pre-Raphaelite commitment to painting from nature and depicting nature in exquisite detail. John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.
- Why did Charles Dickens accuse the artist of portraying Mary as an alcoholic in this painting?
Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art
- By John Everett Millais
- By John William Waterhouse
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- Marie Spartali Stillman
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
- Name: Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet
- Born: 1829 – Southampton, England
- Died: 1896 (aged 67) – Kensington, London
- Nationality English
- Notable works:
Quotes by John Ruskin
“When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.”
“What we think or what we know or what we believe is at the end of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do. “
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”
“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
“Paint the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.”
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”
“In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”
“I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility.”
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.”
“Great events make me quiet and calm;
it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.”
– Queen Victoria
Photo Credit: John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons