Shadow of Death

In William Holman Hunt's painting The Shadow of Death he combines realistic depiction with symbolism to create an image of typological significance that refers to the prophecy of Christ's crucifixion. All of the objects in the picture are real, and the symbolic effect of the painting derives from Mary's kneeling in front of the shadow, Christ's open-armed posture, and the effects of several pictorial objects interposed upon one another. Christ's head against a window in the background becomes a nimbus and his shadow falling on the sharp tools suggests the nails with which he will later be crucified. Thus Hunt gives the viewer the opportunity to imagine the possibility of Christ's divine importance by interpreting the symbols which surround him in the painting. By the time one has interpreted the symbols one has already been struck by the aura of the central figure in the painting, since his divinity has been imagined and not simply stated as a fact.


1. What sort of relationship is created here between the real and the symbolic?

2. Do the postures come across as forced to serve the type and anti-type?

3. What happens to our appreciation of the image if we have no knowledge of the bible?

4. To what extent is this painting the portrayal of humble subjects?

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Last modified 10 September 2006