William Holman Hunt's The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple is notable for presenting a variety of symbolic images in a meticulously realistic manner. Hunt traveled in the Middle East to learn observe the people, landscape, and architecture for himself, in order to reproduce these material details in his paintings. This experience is evident in the carefully distinguished styles of clothing worn by different characters, for example the ornate robes of the Rabbis and the boy in the bottom left corner, compared with the peasant clothing of Christ and his family, as well as of the blind man outside. Meanwhile, the painting moves beyond these material details to tell much of the story of Christ symbolically. Christ, encircled by a halo created from the light shining upon his hair, debates with the antequated Rabbis with the scrolls which consititute their faith, while outside the workers are building up a new structure. Within the temple, in the far background, the sacrificial lamb prefigures the sacrifice of Christ.

Questions

1. To present the depth in the painting realistically, Hunt casts the figures in the center of the painting in shadow. What effect, if any, does this have on the painting's meaning?

2. What significance do the birds in the upper right corner have?

3. How does the sense of depth in this painting compare with that of A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids ?

4. What is the significance of the brightly dressed boy in the lower right corner?

5. This painting was attacked by many critics for subordinating religious significance to material detail. Are these criticisms just? Does the material detail hinder, or aid, the religious significance of the painting?

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Last modified 27 September 2006