William Holman Hunt's Triumph of the Innocents is a marked departure from earlier works, such as The Shadow of Death or The Finding of the Savior in the Temple, in which Hunt depicted realistic, plausible settings invested with a wealth of typologically significant details. In The Triumph of the Innocents, Hunt continues to employ the concrete realism of the earlier paintings, but also includes supernatural and visionary that which clearly belong to another world. The artist takes great care to depict the Holy Family and the surrounding landscape as he believes they would actually have appeared. However, he contradicts this impression of realism by including the spirit children, who seem to float weightlessly above the ground and to project light from within their bodies; and the visionary bubbles, containing reflections of things that appear nowhere in the surrounding landscape.Ê Hunt's "curious mixture of the real and the allegorical" (Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 104) reminds one of the contemporary aesthetic of magical realism. In this aesthetic, fantastic or implausible elements are seamlessly integrated into an otherwise realistic milieu.
1. Did Hunt succeed in integrating the fantastic and realistic elements of this painting? Can the viewer believe that the Holy Family and the spirit children coexist in the same landscape, or do the two types of elements seem to be mutually exclusive?
2. What similarities exist between the "magical realist" approach of this painting and the typological symbolism of Hunt's earlier paintings? Did the former approach develop naturally out of the latter, or did Hunt abandon one approach for the other?
3. What aesthetic effect did Hunt intend to achieve by combining realistic and supernatural images in this way? Did he intend to instill the viewer with a feeling of hesitation between believing and not believing in the vision, as Todorov suggests?
Last modified 20 September 2004