In his efforts to elevate materialism above recording detail, William Holman Hunt resorted to two separate approaches-either resorting to religious typology or to the appeal of exoticism. Hunt expressed this duality in one of his letters to W.M. Rosetti:

I have a notion that painters should go out two by two, like merchants of nature, and bring home precious merchandise in faithful pictures of scenes interesting from historical consideration or from the strangeness of the subject itself.... In Landscape this is an idea which Lear has had some time.... It must be done by every painter and this most religiously, in fact with something like the spirit of the Apostles, fearing nothing, going amongst robbers and in deserts with impunity as men without anything to lose, and everything must be painted, even the pebbles of the foreground from the place it- self, unless on trial this prove impossible.

Although many of Hunt's historical pictures or strange scenes were religious in nature, a good number also were not. At this same time, Hunt maintained publicly that without faith art would degenerate into spiritualism. Critics of Hunt, such as Art Journal, asserted that Hunt would neglect faith and other broader ideas in his zeal to paint the unusual with such detail: "our conceptions of a sacred event have been taken to Jerusalem but to be smothered in turbans, shawls, fringes, and phylacteries, and there buried in mere picturesqueness" (quoted Landow).

Discussion Questions

1. How often can Hunt's work be accurately described as more Orientalist and eroticist than spiritual? What would have Hunt said about these works?

2. How did works such as his self-portrait fit into his spiritual theme? Did they, or were they something else entirely?

3. Does Hunt sometimes seem to focus more on the details, as his critics assert? Does this focus on the picturesque look forward to aestheticism?

4. Is religion necessary to Hunt's painting? If so, then why do some of his works seem to be purely things that strike his imagination? If not, then why did he not start these efforts until after his religious conversion?

Last modified 11 May 2008