In 1860, William Dyce exhibited his painting The Man of Sorrows at the Royal Academy. This work depicts Christ during his fast of forty days and forty nights. He sits on a natural stone bench, hands folded gently together, head bowed, and facing the lower left-hand corner of the painting as rocky wild grass-covered hills lay still behind him. He sits in meditation.
In the catalogue and on its frame, Dyce quoted part of a poem written by his friend and fellow Anglican High Churchman John Keble, entitled "Ash Wednesday." Keble's poem begins by sermonizing Christ's fast of forty days and forty nights. He speaks directly to members and followers of the Church, questioning how people deal with temptation.
Thus oft the mourner's wayward heart
Tempts him to hide his grief and die
Too feeble for Confessions's smart,
Too proud to bear a pitying eye.
Keble then proceeds to invoke images of the holy: glimmering stars from the eternal house above, Angels looking upon kneeling sinners, and on to He who in secret sees; it is at this point that Dyce quotes.
As, when upon His drooping head
His Father's light was pour'd from heaven,
What time, unsheltered and unfed,
Far in the wild His steps were driven.
High thoughts were with Him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth.
Dyce captures these lines in a notable way, combining his High Church influences with Pre-Raphaelitism. He meticulously records the granite rocks and wild grass of the barren hills. With his placement of Christ he gives faculty for the viewer to connect with Christ's suffering in this natural setting.
1. Dyce tells a narrative through a landscape and a conventional Christ. In Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents and Hunt's The Shadow of Death, the narrative is told by the carefully crafted setting of types and an unconventional Christ. We've discussed typological power. How does Dyce's narrative compare with those told through typology?
2. Like PRB painters who drew inspiration from poetry, Dyce chooses to paint the moment of a specific few lines. However, he hardly exaggerates. Though his subject his heavy, he uses soft light and soft colors. What is going on here?
3. The advance of geology was one of the many shocks to the Bible during the Victorian Era. How do we read this High Churchman's use of realism?
4. Aside from the beauty of nature, there is no allusion to the Holy Spirit or other religious types. How does this dictate the message of the painting?
Barringer, Tim. RReading the Pre-Raphaelites. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Last modified 13 February 2008