Tuesday, August 5, 2008

William Holman Hunt "A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest"

Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest William Holman Hunt

The first painting to be exhibited after the public revelation of the meaning of "PRB" was William Holman Hunt's "A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids." The title of the painting is rather self-explanatory, and like many of the early Pre-Raphaelite works, it dealt with religious themes through a rather syncretistic lens.

You might also recognize the face of the girl on the right of the priest: it's Lizzie Siddal, although Holman Hunt has portrayed her rather differently than Rossetti generally does. This painting caused an uproar when it was first displayed because of the "nudity" of some of the figures. This might have merely been a reaction to the fact that the public was now aware of the existence of the Pre-Raphaelites and did not approve of the Brotherhood.

This painting is filled with overt Christian symbolism. You can see that thorns are being removed from the priest's clothing and the women are preparing to bathe his feet--an allusion to Christ on the cross. Immediately above the priest is a red cross that indicates that the family sheltering the priest are Christian converts. A lamp burns just below, highlighting the fact that, in time, things will change for Christians in England. Grapes are being grown on the arbour above, hinting at the wine used at mass (one of the young boys on the left hand of the canvas is drinking from a chalice). At the right of the canvas, a net rests on one of the beams supporting the roof. Interestingly, while nets are symbols of Christianity (Christ made his disciples "fishers of men"), they also are a reference to the fact that this family has abandoned some key Druidic practices. The Druids believed fish were sacred and did not allow fishing.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Beautiful painting. I'm glad you pointed out Lizzie Siddal. Now that I look at her, I recognize her completely. But you're correct, she is portrayed here in a different manner than Rossetti.

You have a lovely blog.

M.Kate said...

another interesting post

lotusgreen said...

this is very interesting--sends my mind off in various directions: all the different food taboos in various religions, and wondering what the actual reasons were in each case, and the degree to which those differences were used as wedges.

and fridays -- does this mean that christians revert to druidism on fridays?

Margaret said...

I've often wondered about food taboos myself! It seems a bit odd that fish would have been off limits to the Druids, since there are so many fish in Britain. I wonder if Druids could eat seafood but not fish?

lotusgreen said...

i always assume there's some "real reason" in the beginning, fish? maybe there was some fish illness at one point and the practice became so ingrained that it literally became "part of the religion."

apparently kosher came from the fact that milk and meat were more likely to spoil together than alone, but then again it became part of the religion.

which would be fine except... jewish parents sometimes throw their kids out of the house because they don't keep kosher. and, apparently at one point early christians said: you don't want to be one of those FISH-AVOIDERS, do you???!

(i have this big thing about religion when it starts heading anyone in any direction other than opening their heart.)

Anonymous said...

There are many Celtic tales which have talking fish which are then thrown back in return for wishes, good fortune etc. perhaps this stems from Druid law? There's a place in Ireland I vaguely recollect that had a sacred salmon which Christianity then took over. Wish my brain worked better.

Lovely description of the painting Margaret.