Monday, April 23, 2007

Light of the World

At Books & Culture there is an essay about the Pre-Raphaelites, and especially William Holman Hunt, by Timothy Larson. It reviews a couple of new books about this set of 19th Century artists who took Christian belief seriously. Excerpts:
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and the other Pre-Raphaelites were rebelling against the high art conventions of their day. They stood for paintings that were infused with meaning, often through symbolism, and executed with realism and meticulous attention to nature. Their self-chosen name was a deliberate provocation: what if medieval art was in some ways better than that of the Renaissance? ....

The Pre-Raphaelites admired leading medieval religious painters such as Fra Angelico and Giotto for their earnestness and sincerity: they patently believed the Christian truths that their art depicted. Ruskin observed that art used to be a way of communicating faith, but the great themes of faith were now cynically employed simply for the sake of displaying artistic prowess. He grumbled about the typical modern artist who thought of a picture of the Madonna merely as "a pleasant piece of furniture for the corner of a boudoir." The Pre-Raphaelites wagered their artistic reputations and lives on the premise that it need not be so. In our irony-soaked, "post"-everything age, we need them. Most of all, we need Holman Hunt. ....

Core themes of evangelical Protestantism—personal conversion and atonement through Christ's work on the cross—were the inspiration for almost all of Hunt's great religious works of art. The Light of the World is as evangelistic a painting as one can imagine: a straight appeal for the viewer to open the door of his or her heart and let Jesus come in. Likewise, The Awakening Conscience was a direct call to be converted from a life of sin. The Shadow of Death drove home the point that Christ's whole life should be viewed through the lens of his crucifixion. The Scapegoat is a piercing affirmation of penal substitution, a doctrine that liberal Protestants—then and now—endeavor to evade. .... [much more]
Source: Books & Culture: Look Again

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