Hireling Shepherd William Holman Hunt portrays the biblical subject of the Holy Family's flight to Egypt in his inventive painting, Triumph of the Innocents. Hunt depicts Mary, Christ, and Joseph as they fled from the killings of the first-born children or "Innocents" by King Herod. The Holy Family is curiously surrounded by small children who dance, float and led the way for the Holy Family along their nocturnal journey. These children, bathed in yellow light and glowing with visible auras, are representatives of the children slaughtered by Herod. The Innocents, of analogous age to Christ, are reminiscent of Renaissance "putti" or angels. Beset with flowers, jewels and delicate drapery, these spirit-figures boldly occupy the same space as the human Holy Family, thus creating a tension of worlds that is not easily resolved upon close inspection.

The dark space in which this odd mixture of figures inhabits is detailed to be a specific sight that Hunt would have studied during his extended stay in Jerusalem. He depicts distinctive farmland against an idealistic moon-kissed starry sky. In the foreground of the composition, deliberate bubbles rise from the ground or viewer's space. These bubbles contain miniature figures that have biblical references. although this work includes both natural and supernatural elements, Hunt paints with consistent attention to detail. The effect of his strange fusion of biblical references and artistic invention is a composition of extreme complexity and enchantment.


1. How does the lighting in this painting effect the overall composition? How different would the mood of the painting be if Hunt had chosen to depict this exact scene during the day?

2.Triumph of the Innocents makes Hunt's keen interest in symbolism very apparent. How does this symbolism affect the monumentality of this painting?

3. Hunt brashly brings the fairy-like theme of the PRB into a religious painting. How would this interpretation been received by members of the Royal Academy or critics of the PRB?

Last modified 20 September 2004