Hunt probably already knew of typological interpretations of scripture, since they formed a popular subject of Victorian sermons, but Ruskin's application of this kind of symbolism to art clearly struck him as new. Countless sermons, tracts, and hymns taught Victorian worshippers of all sects to read the Bible in search of types. A type is an anticipation of Christ. Thus, Samson, who gave his life for God's people, partially anticipates Christ, who repeats the action, endowing it with a deeper, more complete significance. Christ therefore fulfills the type, or figure, provided by Samson. Similarly, Solomon, wise in judgment, and Moses, giver of the moral or "old" law, are both types. As Thomas Hartwell Horne explained in a text that was standard reading for English divinity students,
A type, in its primary and literal meaning, simply denotes a rough draught, or less accurate model, from which a more perfect image is made: but, in the sacred or theological sense of the term, a type may be defined to be a symbol of something future and distant, or an example prepared and evidently designed by God to prefigure that future thing. What is thus prefigured is called the antitype. [Compendious Introduction, 184.]
Horne further explains that in scripture one encounters three kinds of types — the legal, the prophetical, and the historical. Legal types are those contained in the Mosaic law which itself prefigures the New Law of Christ. "On comparing the history and economy of Moses with the whole of the New Testament, it evidently appears, that the ritual law was typical [typologically prefigurative] of the Messiah and the Gospel blessings: and this point has been clearly established by the great Apostle of the Gentiles, in his Epistle to the Hebrews" (184). As we shall later observe, Hunt drew upon this form of typological symbolism for The Scapegoat, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, and The Triumph of the Innocents. Prophetical types, such as the passage in Psalms about the cornerstone, "are those by which the divinely inspired prophets prefigured or signified things either present or future, by means of external symbols" (184). This form of typological symbolism had a particular fascination for the painter, and, as we shall see, he employed it throughout his career in most complex combinations. The third form of types, according to Horne, is the historical, and these "are the characters, actions, and fortunes of some eminent persons recorded in the Old Testament, so ordered by Divine Providence as to be exact prefigurations of the characters, actions, and fortunes of future persons who should arise under the Gospel dispensation" (184). although the most popular historical types were those which prefigured Christ, they could also serve to foreshadow any person or persons in the Christian dispensation. As Henry Melvill, Ruskin's favorite preacher, emphasized, types are to be seen "spreading . . . over the whole of time, and giving outlines of the history of this world from the beginning to the final consummation" ("The First Prophecy", Sermons (London, 1833), 6). Thus, when Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor, the shining forms of Moses and Elias stood by him: "Moses was the representative of the myriads who shall rise from the grave; Elias, of those, who, found alive upon earth, shall be transformed without seeing death" ("The Death of Moses", Sermons (London, 1836), 1, 84-85). Furthermore, one could also interpret Christ's enemies in the New Testament, or the prophets" in the Old, as prefiguring those who oppose Christian truth in later ages. Hunt employed this form of typology in his early painting of A Converted British Family sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids and his stained glass design Melchizedek.
Unlike allegory, which interprets one thing as in reality signifying another, typology traces the connections and similarities between two unique events, each of which is equally real. As Erich Auerbach explains in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature,
the fact that a figural scheme permits both its poles — the figure and its fulfilment — to retain the characteristics of concrete historical reality, in contradistinction to what obtains with symbolic or allegorical personifications, so that figure and fulfilment although the one "signifies" the other — have a significance which is not incompatible with being real. An event taken as a figure [type] preserves its literal and historical meaning. It remains an event, does not become a mere sign. The Church Fathers, especially Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine, had successfully defended figural realism, that is, the maintenance of the basic historical reality of figures, against all attempts at spiritually allegorical interpretation. (Princeton, 1953, 195-96.)
This crucial distinction between typology and allegory has such major implications for Hunt's conception of a symbolic realism that it is worthwhile to note that it was frequently repeated by Victorian exegetes. Patrick Fairbairn, whose Typology of Scripture went through five nineteenth-century editions, made a particular point of emphasizing this distinction. According to him, "An allegory is a narrative, either expressly feigned for the purpose, or — if describing facts which really took place — describing them only for the purpose of representing certain higher truths or principles than the narrative, in its literal aspect, whether real or fictitious, could possibly have taught" (5th ed. 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1870, I, 18-19). In allegory, therefore, the literal meaning, even if not invented, is employed "simply as a cover for the higher sense." Typology has two qualities which separate it from this form of symbolism:
Typical interpretations of Scripture differ from allegorical ones of the first or fabulous kind, in that they indispensably require the reality of the facts or circumstances stated in the original narrative. And they differ also from the other, in requiring, beside this, that the same truth or principle be embodied alike in the type and the antitype. The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.
Whereas in typology both signifier and signified are equally real, in allegory the signifier can be cast off like an empty husk once its meaning has been understood.
Another difference between these two symbolic modes is that typology requires a unique situational parallel. Thus, strictly speaking, Moses is not a type of Christ; rather, "Moses leading the Children of God from Egyptian slavery into the promised land" acts as a type for "Christ leading all men from spiritual slavery, sin, and ignorance into the heavenly kingdom". although writers often sound as if one person or thing may foreshadow another, in fact, situation and action are also necessary to have a true type. In their love of seeking elaborate and unexpected prefigurations of Christ, many nineteenth-century readers of scripture so concentrated upon details that they unknowingly emptied their types of situational parallels and uniqueness. When preachers frequently interpreted the incense required by the levitical sacrifices as a type of Christ's holiness or grace, they were using the incense allegorically to signify an abstract quality — something which exists in all time, and not a specific, unique action. Nonetheless, even when they allegorized in the guise of finding types and figures, Victorian interpreters maintained typology's emphasis upon the reality of both signifier and signified.
It is necessary to emphasize how widespread and how orthodox were typological interpretations of the Bible. They were by no means the property only of radical sects jealously guarding the seventeenth-century Puritan tradition. During the reign of Victoria any person who could read, whether or not a believer, was likely to recognize allusions to typological interpretations of scripture, and, in fact, the major Victorian poets had frequent recourse to them. Ignorant of typology, we misread many Victorian works — including those of Ruskin and Tennyson, Browning and Hopkins — and the danger is that the greater the work, the more our ignorance will distort and reduce it.
Although members of the High Church party also practiced typological exegetics, it was chiefly the Evangelical Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Baptists, and similar denominations who taught English men and women to read the Bible for types of Christ. By the last decades of the eighteenth century, sermons, tracts, biblical commentaries, and hymns all taught the individual worshipper to perceive types and shadows of Christ throughout the Old Testament and within the life of Christ himself. One reason for the popularity of this manner of interpretation among the evangelical sects was their need to relate all portions of scripture — including the most apparently irrelevant — to the Christian dispensation. As Melvill emphasized in "The Well of Bethlehem," if we fail to search the scriptural narratives for types, "it is evident that we shall practically take away from a great part of the Bible its distinctive character as a record of spiritual truth" (170). Distrustful of what Bishop J. C. Ryle, a leading writer of tracts, termed the "rubbish of patristic traditions" (248), the Evangelicals cut themselves off from the ecclesiastical past. Their anti-historical views, combined with a non-canonical belief in verbal inspiration, created potentially severe problems for readers of scripture. What, for example, was the Manchester cotton-spinner to make of the elaborate directions for animal sacrifice in Leviticus? What was the little boy in the local chapel to make of Christ's circumcision? Since the Evangelicals urged that every word of the scriptures — even in its English translation — was the literal word of God, they could not simply pass by these difficult sections. But since they would not accept an evolutionary conception of the Bible (at least not in the nineteenth-century Germanic manner), they could not make use of historical or anthropological explanation. Therefore, it was with a triumphant use of typology that the preacher revealed how God used the levitical rites to anticipate the Gospel scheme. Typology once more played its hermeneutic role.
Typological exegetics appear to have furnished one of the most important subjects of nineteenth-century sermons — something which one might suspect from the fact that Charles Simeon, the great Cambridge Evangelical, devoted an entire volume of his sermon outlines to types and prophecies. (Simeon's Helps to Composition appeared in various versions between 1802 and 1832. In the edition which I have inspected, a quarter of the entire work was devoted to the subject of types and prophecies.)The result was that the individual worshipper, whether Evangelical or High Anglican, American or English, learned to perceive an excitingly complex network spreading across scriptural events, making the most meaningless seem charged with Christian value and importance.
Elliott-Binns, L. E. Religion in the Victorian Era. 2nd ed. Greenwich, Conn., 1946.
Horne, Thomas Hartwell. A Compendious Introduction to the Study of the Bible. 9th ed. London, 1852.The title page of this work informs us that it is "an analysis" or condensation of Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, which had gone through eleven editions by 1860. According to Sacvan Bercovitch, Typology and Early American Literature (Amherst, 1972), 305, this work was "a standard text for Scripture study in all English colleges and universities".
Melvill, Henry. "The Well of Bethlehem" in Sermons. London, 1843.
Ryle, J. C. Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths. New York, 1851. According to Elliott-Binns, Bishop Ryle's tracts had a total circulation of twelve million copies (p. 348).
Last modified December 2001