Attributed to William Holman Hunt, 1827 - 1910
A Troubadour resting with his Capuchin Monkey
A Troubadour resting with his Capuchin Monkey
oil on canvas
45 x 36 cm. (17.3/4 x 14.1/4 in.)


There have been performances in public places for gratuities in every major culture in the world, dating back to antiquity. This art form was the most common means of employment for entertainers before the advent of recording and personal electronics. Prior to that, a person had to produce any music or entertainment, save for a few mechanical devices such as the barrel organ, the music box, and the piano roll. Organ grinders were commonly found busking in the old days. The term "busking" was first noted in the English language around the middle 1860s in Great Britain. Up until the 20th century buskers were commonly called minstrels in America, Europe and other English-speaking lands.

The word "busk" comes from the Spanish root word "buscar", meaning "to seek" – buskers are literally seeking fame and fortune. Busking is common among some Gypsies, also known as the Romani people. Romantic mention of Gypsy music, dancers and fortune tellers are found in all forms of song poetry, prose and lore. The Roma brought the word busking to England by way of their travels along the Mediterranean coast to Spain and the Atlantic ocean and then up north to England and the rest of Europe. In medieval France buskers were known by the terms troubadours and jongleurs. In northern France they were known as trouveres. In old German buskers were known as Minnesingers and Spielleute. In obsolete French it evolved to busquer for "seek, prowl" and was generally used to describe prostitutes. In Italian it evolved to buscare which meant "procure, gain" and in Italy buskers are called buscarsi or, more simply, Buskers (see loan word). In Russia buskers are called skomorokh and their first recorded history appears around the 11th century.Mariachis are Mexican street bands that play a specific style of music by the same name.] Mariachis frequently wear ornate costumes with intricate embroidery and beaded designs, large brimmed sombreros and the short charro jackets. Mariachi groups busk when they perform while traveling through streets and plazas, as well as in restaurants and bars.Around the middle 19th century Japanese Chindonya started to be seen using their skills for advertising, and these street performers are still occasionally seen in Japan.In the US, medicine shows proliferated in the 19th century. They were traveling vendors selling elixirs and potions to improve the health. They would often employ entertainment acts as a way of making the clients feel better. The people would often associate this feeling of well-being with the products sold. After these performances they would "pass the hat".

Easily recognized as the "organ grinder" or "greyhound jockey" monkeys, capuchins are sometimes kept as exotic pets. Sometimes they plunder fields and crops and are seen as troublesome by nearby human populations. In some regions they have become rare due to the destruction of their habitat. They are also used as service animals, sometimes being called "nature's butlers". Some organizations have been training capuchin monkeys to assist quadriplegics as monkey helpers in a manner similar to mobility assistance dogs. After being socialized in a human home as infants, the monkeys undergo extensive training before being placed with a quadriplegic. Around the house, the monkeys help out by doing tasks including microwaving food, washing the quadriplegic's face, and opening drink bottles. Capuchin monkeys are featured in the movies Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (and its sequels), The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (and its sequels), Night at the Museum (and its sequel), Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Ace Ventura When Nature Calls, and Monkey Shines. Ross Gellar(David Schwimmer) on the NBC sitcom Friends had a capuchin monkey named Marcel.

Artist biography

Hunt, William Holman (1827–1910), painter, was born on 2 April 1827 at Love Lane, Wood Street, Cheapside, in the City of London, the third of the seven children of William Hunt (1800–1856) and his wife, Sarah (bap. 1798, d. 1884), daughter of William and Ann Hobman of Rotherhithe. He was baptized at St Giles Cripplegate on 10 June, the church register giving his father's profession as warehouseman. William Hunt's employer was the haberdashery manufacturer James Chadwick & Brother, of 3 Little Love Lane.

Early years and first paintings

From a very early age Holman Hunt was continually drawing. But in 1839 his father, who disapproved of his ambition to become a professional painter, decided that he should leave boarding-school and earn his living in a city warehouse. The twelve-year-old Hunt arranged instead to be taken on as a copying clerk to a Spitalfields estate agent and auctioneer, James Labram, who encouraged his artistic talent and introduced him to oil painting. At this period Hunt studied drawing at a mechanics' institute in the evenings and spent his salary on weekly lessons with a City portrait painter, Henry Rogers.

Hunt left his first job at the end of 1840, and from 1841 to 1843 found employment as a clerk in the muslin and calico printing works of Richard Cobden, at 40 Cateaton Street, Aldermanbury. He then undertook his first attempts at landscape painting, but his striving for truth to nature was frowned upon by Henry Rogers, who set him to copy (c.1842–1843; priv. coll.) his copy of Van Dyck's Virgin and Child with St Catherine (original then in the collection of the marquess of Westminster, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York). Most of Hunt's earliest known oils are portraits, including one of old Hannah, a local orange seller (c.1843). This striking likeness was drawn to the attention of William Hunt, and during the ensuing confrontation the young clerk was at last able to overrule his father's objections to his choice of career.

In 1844 Hunt was issued with a ticket authorizing him to paint in the National Gallery. One of the first copies he made there was of David Wilkie's The Blind Fiddler (1806; Tate collection), which, he learned, was painted without a monochrome lay-in of the whole design, ‘finishing each bit thoroughly in the day’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.53). This piecemeal technique, employed by Renaissance fresco painters, stimulated Hunt's interest in quattrocento painting and led to the Pre-Raphaelites' adoption of a similar method.

In the summer of 1844, while studying in the British Museum, Hunt met John Everett Millais, who was to become his closest friend and colleague. Millais encouraged the slightly older artist to reapply to the Royal Academy Schools; at the third attempt Hunt was enrolled as a probationer, on 11 July, becoming a full student on 18 December. The following year he made his exhibition début at the Royal Manchester Institution with Pity the Sorrows of a Poor Old Man. The subject suggests that from the start he was attracted to themes dealing with the oppressed.

Youth and foundation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

At the Royal Academy Schools, Hunt met Frederic George Stephens, who, as a critic, was to become his great supporter, and whose portrait Hunt painted in 1846–7 (Tate collection). In 1847 Hunt completed Dr Rochecliffe Performing Divine Service in the Cottage of Joceline Joliffe, at Woodstock (priv. coll.), a subject from Sir Walter Scott. It was well received at that year's Royal Academy exhibition and immediately found a buyer.

In the summer of 1847 Hunt was lent a copy of the critic John Ruskin's Modern Painters and later recalled that ‘of all its readers none could have felt more strongly that it was written expressly for him’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.73). Reading the Old Testament in search of characters or incidents that prefigure the life of Christ or any persons or events in the Christian dispensation was standard practice in evangelical circles. But Ruskin's way of applying this method (known as typology) in his analysis of Tintoretto's Annunciation (Scuola di San Rocco, Venice) had a profound effect on Hunt's artistic development. It showed him that it was possible to combine realism and symbolism into a coherent whole without distorting the realism by resorting to outdated allegorical modes. It was probably the cause of Hunt's setting aside Christ and the Two Marys (1847–c.1897; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide), his largest painting to date and his first religious subject, on realizing that its traditional iconography would lack emotional impact.

Ruskin also converted Hunt to a moralistic approach to his painting, which is immediately apparent in The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro during the Drunkenness Attending the Revelry (Guildhall Art Gallery, London), begun in February 1848. Hunt's attempt at portraying a dramatic situation in a convincingly realized setting, and the rich deep colours of the costumes, prefigure the works of high Pre-Raphaelitism. The cramped picture space was a compositional format that also came to be associated with the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1848 The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro was much admired by the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Hunt and Rossetti became close friends and in August began sharing a studio in Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square. By the end of the year Hunt and Rossetti, together with Millais, William Michael Rossetti, F. G. Stephens, James Collinson, and Thomas Woolner, formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The aims of the movement were elucidated in 1895 by W. M. Rossetti as follows:

1, To have genuine ideas to express; 2, to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them; 3, to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and 4, and most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues. (Family Letters, 1.135)

Achievements of the period of high Pre-Raphaelitism

In the summer of 1848 Hunt began his only oil painting bearing the initials of the brotherhood, PRB: Rienzi vowing to obtain justice for the death of his young brother, slain in a skirmish between the Colonna and Orsini factions (priv. coll.). The source was Edward Bulwer Lytton's novel Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes (1835). Hunt would have been attracted by Rienzi's youth and humble origins, as well as by his struggle for the political freedom of his country. Indeed the picture was conceived as a reflection of the populist-inspired uprisings that were convulsing Europe in 1848; Hunt had been caught up in them that April, when he and Millais witnessed the Chartist gathering on Kennington Common. Fittingly, three members of the brotherhood—Millais and D. G. and W. M. Rossetti—posed for a work planned as revolutionary in terms of a rejection of artistic convention. The landscape was painted out of doors, in full sunlight, and the style was suited to the trecento subject matter. At the Royal Academy in 1849 Rienzi attracted the attention of the academician Augustus Egg, who managed to sell it that August, on Hunt's behalf, to the industrialist John Gibbons.

The 100 guineas that Hunt received for the painting enabled him to buy the canvas for A converted British family sheltering a Christian missionary from the persecution of the Druids (AM Oxf.), and he now went down to Homerton, Middlesex, to work on the landscape out of doors. In the autumn he visited Paris and Belgium with D. G. Rossetti. On his return to London he took rooms in Brompton, and on 5 January 1850 moved to 5 Prospect Place, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where he painted the figures in his druids picture. The two missionaries were conceived as types of the persecuted Saviour, and, on its exhibition at the Royal Academy of 1850, Hunt's use of typological symbolism was rightly linked with that of Millais in Christ in the House of his Parents (Tate collection). The critical response was generally savage, exacerbated by the uneasy religious climate of a time when conversions to Rome were widespread.

The prevailing hostility was probably responsible for the cancellation of a commission in late May from the academician Thomas Creswick. For this Hunt had designed two highly-finished pen-and-ink drawings that focused on the psychological trauma engendered by the conflict between passion and duty. The first was The Lady of Shalott (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), whose theme was to be of lifelong significance for Hunt. He regarded Tennyson's eponymous heroine as a paradigm of the role of the artist, necessarily cloistered from the world yet dedicated to interpreting it. The second design, a compositional study for Claudio and Isabella (FM Cam.), from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, was developed into a painting (1850–53; Tate collection), Augustus Egg having taken over the original commission from Creswick.

In September 1850 Hunt received 150 guineas for A Converted British Family, which became the cornerstone of the Pre-Raphaelite collection of Thomas Combe, printer to the University of Oxford and a prominent high-churchman. Combe played an important role in Hunt's life, as a father figure and adviser as well as staunch patron. Hunt now had the means to begin another Shakespearian subject: Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), the landscape of which was executed between September and November in the grounds of Knole Park, near Sevenoaks. The sparkling colouring of the work is heightened by Hunt's use, in parts, of a wet white ground, adapting a technique employed by Renaissance fresco painters. On its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1851, Rossetti's mentor Ford Madox Brown advised his friend Lowes Dickinson to adopt this method:

at once, as I can assure you you will be forced to do so ultimately, for Hunt and Millais, whose works already kill everything in the exhibition for brilliancy, will in a few years force every one who will not drop behind them to use their methods. (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.256n.)

Valentine Rescuing Sylvia was warmly praised by Ruskin in his letters to The Times of 13 and 30 May 1851 in defence of the Pre-Raphaelite exhibits, which had once again been strongly attacked. His intervention finally turned the critical tide in the artists' favour.

From then onwards most of Hunt's major paintings were based on a complex intellectual framework that he worked out in advance. In May 1851 he wrote to the poet Coventry Patmore, who had been responsible for enlisting Ruskin's support, asking to borrow a copy of the works of the seventeenth-century theologian Richard Hooker. He added: ‘As however I am obliged to read for my next year's subjects much just now, I hope you will be able to spare it some time’ (Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. lett. d. 40, fol. 31). Hooker provided the theme of The Hireling Shepherd (1851–2; Manchester City Galleries), with its underlying attack on sectarianism for deflecting the clergy from the task of tending their flock. The picture marks out a new direction, in which the symbolism is so arcane as to be virtually impenetrable without a literary gloss. The painting can, however, be enjoyed on many levels. Its sunlit landscape, with its closely observed blue shadows, was painted at Ewell, Surrey, between June and December 1851 and was Hunt's most ambitious attempt at naturalism to date.

The Light of the World (1851–3; Keble College, Oxford), arguably the most famous religious image of the nineteenth century, was also begun at Ewell in 1851, and Hunt was concerned to render the night effects with total fidelity. The figure of Christ was, however, deliberately ‘mystic in aspect and not suggesting any single person’ (Pre-Raphaelite Friendship, 246). The painting of the Saviour knocking on a door overgrown with brambles, a symbol of the human heart, was executed as the result of a conversion experience. From now onwards, Hunt's deeply felt Christianity fuelled his obsessive desire to go to the Holy Land to put his Pre-Raphaelite principles into practice in situThe Light of the World was purchased by Thomas Combe in August 1853 and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the following year. On 5 May 1854 The Times published a letter from Ruskin that explained the symbolism at length and championed the picture as ‘one of the very noblest works of sacred art ever produced in this or any other age’ (Works, 12.330).

In the summer of 1852 Hunt stayed with Thomas and Martha Combe in Oxford and executed New College Cloisters, 1852 (Jesus College, Oxford), a highly accomplished portrait of the curate John David Jenkins. He then travelled to Fairlight, near Hastings, where he painted his greatest landscape, Our English Coasts, 1852, later known as Strayed Sheep (Tate collection). At the 1853 Royal Academy exhibition these works, together with Claudio and Isabella, attracted the attention of the Mancunian engineer Thomas Fairbairn, who immediately gave Hunt ‘an unlimited commission for some work to be undertaken at my convenience’ (Bronkhurst, ‘Fruits of a connoisseur's friendship’, 588). With this in mind Hunt began The Awakening Conscience (1853–4; Tate collection), which he planned as a pendant to The Light of the World, in order ‘to show how the still small voice speaks to a human soul in the turmoil of life’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.347). It depicts a man with his mistress in a room in a St John's Wood villa. The model for the woman was Annie Miller, whom Hunt had discovered in a Chelsea slum and with whom he was deeply in love.

Artist–explorer in the Near East, 1854–1856

Avid for adventure, in January 1854 Hunt embarked for the East, and the following month joined the artist Thomas Seddon in Cairo. He was initially enchanted by the beauty of the city, which he depicted in the watercolour Cairo: Sunset on the Gebel Mokattum (1854–7; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester). However, his protestant beliefs and conviction of Anglo-Saxon superiority ill equipped him for his first encounter with the Arab way of life. He had difficulty in persuading the local inhabitants to sit for A Street Scene in Cairo: the Lantern-Maker's Courtship (1854–61; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Despite this, by late April the picture was well advanced. The carefully delineated bazaar setting added exoticism to what was basically a conventional courtship theme. The Afterglow in Egypt (1854–63; Southampton Art Gallery), begun on Hunt's second visit to Giza, of April–May 1854, marks, however, a new direction: it was painted from a model posed in the open air, developing his earlier preference for painting the landscape settings of his subjects directly from nature.

For Hunt his first sight of Jerusalem—on 3 June 1854—was an intensely moving religious experience. He rented a house inside the city gates with views over the mosques of the Haram al-Sharif (the site of the temple) towards the Mount of Olives, and wrote to his sculptor friend John Lucas Tupper on 24 July:

The course of events seem so much more comprehensible—the journeys of the Saviour, in the last days of his ministration, from Bethany to Jerusalem to the Temple around the Mount of Olives … seem so real as to appear like an event of the day. (Pre-Raphaelite Friendship, 45)

His many drawings of sites redolent with biblical associations were a means of capturing the essence of the landscape of the Holy Land, which had a profound effect on his own beliefs. He was greatly influenced by Ruskin's call, in Pre-Raphaelitism (1851), for artists to record faithfully ‘every scene of the slightest historical interest’ (Works, 12.349). He wrote to W. M. Rossetti on 12 August 1855 that a painter's duty was ‘to give you a truer notion of the thing’ and stated that in landscape this ‘must be done … most religiously, in fact with something like the spirit of the Apostles’ (Bronkhurst, ‘An interesting series’, 123).

By this date Hunt's major painting The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1854–60; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) had been in hand for over a year. Most contemporary spectators would have realized the importance of the view of the Mount of Olives in the right background, since it was from there that the Saviour, just before the crucifixion, prophesied the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24). The work is suffused with similar examples of typological symbolism. Hunt's attempt to visualize the scene as accurately as possible, both in terms of the architecture of the second temple and of the costumes and features of the protagonists, broke new ground.

In view of the difficulties that Hunt experienced in finding Semitic models prepared to sit for a painting containing seven rabbis as well as the Holy Family, the subject of The Scapegoat (1854–5; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), his second major oil begun on this visit to Syria, was a welcome contrast. The setting—Usdum, on the southern shores of the Dead Sea—was an essential part of the conception, since it was thought to be the site of Sodom. As Hunt noted in his journal of 19 November 1854, ‘No one can stand and say it is not accursed of God’ (Landow, 15). At the time the area was exceptionally dangerous—because of the threat from aggressive Bedouins—and Hunt's trip had to be curtailed before he could finish the landscape part of his picture. The typological link between the scapegoat (a subject from Leviticus) and the persecuted Saviour was crucial to the artist, and in order to convey his meaning he employed biblical quotations on the frame (which he himself designed), as well as providing a long explanatory note in the 1856 Royal Academy catalogue. The painting is a haunting and timeless image of desolation, which W. M. Rossetti, for one, regarded as one of Hunt's ‘finest performances … an act of singular genius’ (Rossetti, ‘Reminiscences’, 389).

London and Italy, 1856–1869

In October 1855 Hunt left Jerusalem and travelled north through Galilee to the Lebanon. After visiting Constantinople and the battle site of Balaklava, in the Crimea, he arrived back in London on 29 January 1856, ‘looking older and altered with a leonine beard’ (Letters of Christina Rossetti, 1.106). In March he took rooms at 49 Claverton Terrace, Lupus Street, Pimlico, with Michael Halliday and Robert Braithwaite Martineau, who were to become his disciples. This was a steamer ride away from Annie Miller in Chelsea. Hunt had been paying for her education and had proposed to her by letter the previous autumn. On his return he was distressed to find that in his absence she had been flirting with D. G. Rossetti and fellow artist George Price Boyce. He confided in Madox Brown, who noted in his diary of 6 July: ‘They all seem mad about Annie Millar & poor Hunt has had a fever about it’ (Diary of Ford Madox Brown, 181).

In the summer of 1856 The Scapegoat was sold for 450 guineas, Hunt's highest price to date. But despite the impact that the picture had made at that year's Royal Academy exhibition, in the elections for associate membership on 3 November, Hunt received only one vote. His opposition to the Royal Academy on the grounds of its hostility to artistic innovation was well known, and he had only put his name forward at the instigation of Thomas Combe. He was, however, deeply hurt by the rejection and now determined to make his reputation without standing again, even though he realized that exclusion carried financial risks. He did not have the means to concentrate on The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, and in the late 1850s had to work on small-scale paintings that would command a ready sale. These include The School Girl's Hymn (1858; AM Oxf.), and replicas of The Light of the World (1853–7; Manchester City Galleries) and The Eve of St Agnes (c.1856–1857; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), which were exhibited in the United States in 1857–8, in a show of contemporary British art organized by W. M. Rossetti.

In the summer of 1857 Hunt moved to 1 Tor Villa, Campden Hill, Kensington. At the same period Edward Moxon's edition of Tennyson's Poems was published with illustrations by the three major Pre-Raphaelites (D. G. Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt) and five academicians (Creswick, John Callcott Horsley, Daniel Maclise, William Mulready, and Clarkson Stanfield). Hunt's seven designs include the celebrated headpiece to The Lady of Shalott, a powerful image of frustrated sexuality. Illustrations were an important source of income for Hunt during these years, and between 1858 and 1866 he executed thirteen more designs for engravings. Two of these, Lost (for Dinah Mulock's Studies from Life, 1862) and A Morning Song(for Isaac Watts's Divine and Moral Songs for Children, 1866), explore the effects on young women of contemporary sexual morality.

The subject of the fallen woman was an understandable obsession, considering Hunt's tortuous relationship with Annie Miller, which finally broke up acrimoniously in the autumn of 1859. She was one of the models for Il dolce far niente (c.1859–1866; ex Christies, 19 Feb 2003), a sensuous, life-size figure painting which was almost certainly inspired by Frederic Leighton's A Roman Lady (La Nanna) (exh. RA, 1859; Philadelphia Museum of Art). Hunt was engaged in an artistic dialogue with Leighton at this time, and his sensitivity to aesthetic trends in avant-garde British art of the late 1850s and early 1860s has seldom been recognized, largely because of his later efforts to divorce himself from the second generation Pre-Raphaelites, under D. G. Rossetti's leadership. Like Rossetti and William Morris, Hunt had a flair for furniture design; the Egyptian chair (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) which features prominently in Il dolce far niente was designed by him in 1857. Moreover, his attention to the frames for his pictures is a preoccupation shared by Rossetti and Whistler. Hunt's important frame designs are intensely individual and innovative, incorporating symbolism appropriate to the subject without losing sight of the decorative ensemble.

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1854–60; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) has an elaborate gilt frame full of symbolic details. It was designed by Hunt in 1859 as an integral part of his picture, which in April of the following year was sold to the dealer Ernest Gambart for £5500. This was a record sum at the time for any contemporary painting. The price included copyright, and Gambart was shrewdly aware of the profits to be made from sales of the engraving (which was published in a massive edition in 1867). The exhibition of The Finding at his German Gallery in 1860 jammed New Bond Street with carriages. Woolner wrote to Emily Tennyson:

You must have heard of the prodigious success of Hunt's picture in a popular sense, nothing like it in modern times … it is so unusual that a fashionable public goes mad about anything more dignified than a Crystal Palace, crinoline, or a Railway King. (Woolner, 193)

On 11 February 1860 Hunt told his friend William Bell Scott: ‘I always try to paint every thing as unlike the thing I last painted as possible’ (Troxell collection, MS, Princeton University Library). The watercolours executed on a walking tour of the west country that autumn—for example, Asparagus Island (priv. coll.)—provided a respite from his eastern work. So did two oils of 1862–3, The King of Hearts (priv. coll.) and a portrait of the retired judge and whig politician Stephen Lushington (NPG). In 1864 Hunt organized an exhibition at the New Gallery, 16 Hanover Street, of two of his recently completed paintings. The Afterglow in Egypt must have contrasted oddly with The Sea King's Peaceful Triumph (London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales) (1863–4; AM Oxf.), a crowd scene influenced by W. P. Frith. The one new work in his small retrospective show at the New Gallery the following year was The Children's Holiday (1864–5; Torbay borough council, Torquay), a large group portrait of Mrs Thomas Fairbairn and five of her children.

In June 1865 Hunt proposed to and was accepted by Fanny (1833–1866), daughter of a prosperous chemist, George Waugh (d. 1873), and his wife, Mary Walker (1805–1886), and sister-in-law of Thomas Woolner. They had known each other for six years, were utterly devoted, and ideally suited. The marriage took place on 28 December 1865, and the following August they left England en route for the East. A cholera outbreak in Marseilles prevented them from reaching their goal, and in October they settled in Florence. At the end of the month Fanny gave birth to a son, Cyril Benoni; she never recovered her strength and on 20 December died of miliary fever. The heartbroken widower plunged ‘deep into work hoping to keep the hard fixed sorrow at bay’ (Allingham and Williams, 292). He channelled all his anguish into Isabella, or, The Pot of Basil (1866–8; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne), a magnificent life-size portrayal of a young woman mourning her murdered lover.

On his return to London in October 1867 Hunt began a portrait of his late wife from a carte-de-visite photograph (1867–8; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio), as a pendant to his Portrait of the Artist (1867–75; Uffizi, Florence). The self-portrait depicts Hunt in his favourite role of artist–explorer, dressed in a turquoise-striped cross-over gown of oriental cloth (qumbaz), secured by a cashmere scarf. If the costume suggests that he wished to base his reputation on his Near Eastern works, the setting, reminiscent of a Renaissance palazzo, places the artist in a European context, while his luxuriant auburn beard, piercing blue eyes, and pale complexion proclaim his Anglo-Saxon origins.

In June 1868 Hunt returned to Florence to supervise the elaborate marble tomb that he had designed for his wife in the shape of an ark on the waters (English cemetery, piazzale Donatello). He now took the opportunity to explore further the effects of light on landscape, in such watercolours as Festa at Fiesole (priv. coll.) and Sunset at Chimalditi. These were shown in 1870 at the Old Watercolour Society—without putting his name forward, Hunt had been elected an associate member in February of the previous year.

Religious works inspired by further visits to Jerusalem, 1869–1872, 1875–1878, and 1892

On 21 July 1869 Hunt left Florence, and on 31 August he arrived in Jerusalem. He had already devoted several months to thinking about the major religious paintings that he intended undertaking in the Holy Land, and he now began the preparatory oil for The Shadow of Death (1869–73; Leeds City Art Gallery). The depiction of the Saviour and Virgin in the interior of a carpenter's workshop was influenced by Ruskin, who in the third volume of Modern Painters (1856) had called for a sacred art ‘representing events historically recorded, with solemn effort at a sincere and unartificial conception’ (Works, 5.85). Hunt's reading of Ernest Renan's Vie de Jésus (1863) in 1869 encouraged him to depict the Saviour as a working man, an image that he was well aware would appeal to a wide audience. Indeed, the engraving published in 1878 was Agnews' most widely circulated nineteenth-century print. But by imbuing his picture with typological symbolism Hunt wanted to convey to his audience the spiritual as well as archaeological aspects of his subject.

The definitive painting of The Shadow of Death (1870–73; Manchester City Galleries) was begun in Jerusalem in April 1870. The figures of Christ and the Virgin were painted out of doors, the models posing on the roof of Hunt's house in the Muslim quarter. Two movable huts were constructed in an attempt to regulate the light, since the artist was determined to capture faithfully the impression of the setting afternoon sun. This was a heroic but virtually impossible task on such a large canvas and involved Hunt in continual reworking of both versions. They were completed after his return to London in July 1872, and in March 1873 were sold to Agnews for 10,000 guineas. The large canvas, which was on view at their Bond Street gallery from December 1873 to August 1874, was described that May in an American periodical as ‘probably the most talked-about painting in the world’ (‘Holman Hunt and his “Shadow of death”’, 657).

The other religious subject conceived in Florence in 1868–9 was The Triumph of the Innocents, based on chapter 2 of the gospel of St Matthew. Hunt transformed the traditional iconography of angels attending the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt, substituting a spiritualist vision of the infants condemned to death by Herod at the time of Christ's birth. He researched extensively to secure what he regarded as the correct setting for this subject, and between February and March 1870 encamped at Gaza, painting at night the background of the first version (1870–1903; Harvard U., Fogg Art Museum). On this trip he also carefully studied the local costumes and customs that he was to incorporate into the picture.

The composition was developed on Hunt's return to Jerusalem at the end of 1875, and in the following March he began a much larger version (1876–87; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). The series of preparatory drawings for The Triumph of the Innocents reflects his study of the old masters, which influenced his new determination to paint a digest of his ideas rather than a transcript from nature. The second version was begun on defective canvas, necessitating continual repainting both in Jerusalem and London, to which he had returned in April 1878. A third version, begun in 1883 (Tate collection), was shown at the Fine Art Society in 1885. It was accompanied by a descriptive pamphlet written by the artist, which attempted to explain the symbolism of the picture, with its consoling message of the existence of the afterlife.

An even longer pamphlet was on sale at the New Gallery in 1899, when Hunt's last major original composition, The Miracle of the Sacred Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Harvard U., Fogg Art Museum), was first shown. On his arrival in Jerusalem in 1892, for a fourth and final visit, he ‘felt it would be a pity if I … should not take the opportunity of perpetuating for future generations the astounding scene which many writers have so vividly described’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 2.380–81). This was the fraudulent ceremony that for centuries had taken place on (the Greek) Easter Saturday in the presence of hordes of credulous and often hysterical pilgrims, when the light that usually burns over the sepulchre of Christ was apparently spontaneously rekindled. The crowded composition of Hunt's picture—incorporating over 200 figures—reflects the chaotic nature of the ceremony. He worked on it sporadically from 1893 to 1899, and it can be viewed as the culmination of his mission as artist–ethnographer. His attention to the details of the church architecture and of the costumes of the different races is as acute as ever, even if his personal involvement with the subject prevented him from realizing that the significance of the ceremony could not be successfully conveyed by purely pictorial means.

Later career and writings, 1872–1910

In 1874 Ruskin, deeply impressed by The Shadow of Death, wrote to J. A. Froude:

Among the men I know, or have known, he is the One (literal) Christian, of intellectual power. I have known many Christians—many men of capacity: only Hunt who is both, and who is sincerely endeavouring to represent to our eyes the things which the eyes were blessed which saw. (Works, 37.83)

Hunt, however, soon alienated the Anglican establishment. His late wife's youngest sister (Marion) Edith (1846–1931) had been in love with him since 1868, and in June 1873 they became engaged, even though union with a deceased wife's sister was (until 1907) proscribed under English law. Their courageous decision to proceed isolated them from both their families. The marriage took place in Neuchâtel on 8 November 1875, and in the following month they sailed from Venice to Alexandria en route for Jerusalem. Edith proved a strong and supportive partner, and Hunt was an uxorious husband. Their first child, Gladys Millais Mulock Holman Hunt, was born in Jerusalem on 20 September 1876; their second, a boy, Hilary Lushington, in London on 6 May 1879. Edith and both children posed for Hunt's subject pictures as well as for portraits. Edith, for example, was the first model for The Bride of Bethlehem (1879–84; priv. coll.), an attempt at an image that would appeal to devotees of the aesthetic movement; it was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1885. Two years later Hunt showed there the large Master Hilary: the Tracer (c.1885–1887; priv. coll.), the last and most successful of a trio of paintings of his children. Hilary posed in the drawing room of the house in which the Hunts had lived since November 1881—Draycott Lodge, Fulham—looking out at his father, who was painting him from the garden.

Hilary also posed for the chorister holding a lily in May Morning on Magdalen Tower, the first version of which (1888–92; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) was begun in Oxford in May 1888. As with nearly all Hunt's late major subjects there was a long gestation period—his interest in the May day ceremony and his desire to paint it had begun in 1851. According to his letter of 19 November 1906 to Barrow Cadbury, the first owner of the large version (1888–91; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), ‘The subject itself is, in my mind, one of peculiar interest because it testifies to a latent but strong racial poetic feeling in the English nature’ (Bennett, 59). Hunt's nationalism in the 1880s was very pronounced, fuelled by the growing influence of contemporary French art, which he deplored, on the British art scene. But at the same time his respect for, and interest in, religions other than Christianity increased. The pamphlet accompanying the picture's exhibition in 1891 (at the Gainsborough Gallery in Bond Street) makes clear that he considered May Morning a religious work, celebrating ‘a reverent act of worship [that accepts] the sun as a perfect symbol of creative power’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 2nd edn, 2.418). The composition includes an elderly, bearded Parsi (an adherent of sun worship) next to a group of Oxford academics singing the ‘Hymnus eucharisticus’.

The denial of sectarianism and the emphasis on the positive value of religious worship expressed in this work look forward to the nearly life-size replica of The Light of the World(c.1900–1904; St Paul's Cathedral, London). This, Hunt's last oil painting, was begun as a protest against the treatment of the original by Keble College. He was incensed that visitors had been asked to pay to see it, and in a letter of 28 February 1894 to a relative of Thomas Combe he described the authorities there as ‘bigotted Goths’ (Maas, 97). He signalled his own liberalism by adding to the replica a crescent aperture in the lantern held by the Saviour, suggesting that the light of the world was available to all, Muslim as well as Christian. The painting was bought in 1904 by the shipowner and sociologist Charles Booth, who paid for it to tour Canada, Australasia, and South Africa. It was seen by millions of people, many of whom had never previously entered an art gallery.

Hunt's advancing glaucoma necessitated employing Edward Robert Hughes as a studio assistant on this picture and on the large oil of The Lady of Shalott (c.1888?–1905; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut), which The Times of 22 May 1905 rightly judged ‘a fine thing, the crown of a fine life's work’. In letters of November 1897 to the Birmingham MP J. T. Middlemore, Hunt described it as ‘a picture with deep significance’, but stressed that he had ‘no intention of explaining the details’ (MSS, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). This suggests that he wanted the image to be judged on aesthetic grounds. It synthesizes elements of classical, Eastern, and Christian cultures, each of which had a precise meaning for the artist, but which he declined to elucidate in his 1905 pamphlet on the painting. For once Hunt had moved away from didacticism towards an open-ended approach which allies this picture with fin de siècle European symbolism.

In 1903 the Hunts moved to 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, where the artist worked on his memoirs. This major project had been in his mind since the mid-1880s, when he published a series of articles entitled ‘The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: a fight for art’ in the Contemporary Review, to coincide with his first comprehensive one-man exhibition held at the Fine Art Society in 1886. His agenda, in Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was first to promote the Hunt–Millais wing of the brotherhood at the expense of Rossetti and Madox Brown; and second to attack foreign influence on contemporary British art, since he felt that the role of the artist was to give ‘a tangible and worthy image of the national body and mind’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.xiii). The two volumes were published in December 1905. Their self-aggrandizing tone caused deep offence, and particularly incensed F. G. Stephens (who had been alienated from Hunt since 1880). But commercially the book was a success: 1500 copies out of a print run of 2000 were sold within a month, and by April 1906 Hunt was preparing a second edition. This appeared posthumously in 1913.

On 28 June 1905 Hunt received an honorary DCL from Oxford University, and on 24 July he was awarded the Order of Merit. In October–November 1906 a retrospective exhibition of his works was shown at the Leicester Galleries in London. It attracted 30,000 visitors and was followed by successful one-man shows on a larger scale at Manchester (1906–7), Liverpool, and Glasgow (1907).

From 1901 the Hunts had spent their summers at Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire, in a house designed by Edith and Gladys Holman Hunt for the artist's retirement. On 22 August 1910 Hunt caught what appeared to be a slight chill in the garden there. He became critically ill, and on 6 September was brought back to his home, 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, where he died at 12.30 p.m. the following day. The cause of death was given as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and respiratory and cardiac failure. Unusually for this period Hunt had left instructions that he should be cremated. The funeral took place on 10 September at Golders Green crematorium; following a campaign by his friends his ashes were buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral two days later, next to the grave of Turner. William Michael Rossetti, sole survivor of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was one of the pallbearers. A report in The Times of 13 September 1910 makes Hunt's place in popular consciousness quite clear:

The thousands who assembled in St. Paul's Cathedral yesterday, and the crowds in the churchyard outside, were the representatives of many millions who had never seen Holman Hunt in the flesh but to whom he was far more than a name; for his pictures had carried him, a revered and familiar friend, into homes without number all over the world.

Character, aims, and reputation

The popular appeal of his pictures was crucially important to Hunt, whose youthful study of Shakespeare had led him ‘to rate lightly that kind of art devised only for the initiated’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.148). He never forgot his own relatively humble origins, and was a convinced egalitarian, committed to widening working-class access to the arts. The way in which he overcame opposition to his choice of career shows remarkable determination and foreshadows his habit in maturity of setting himself almost insuperable artistic challenges. His memoirs give a misleading impression of an intensely serious young man, but contemporary accounts stress his sense of humour as well as his gregarious nature and his wide circle of friends. An acquaintance described him in her journal of 28 September 1860 as:

a very genial, young-looking creature, with a large, square, yellow beard, clear blue laughing eyes, a nose with a merry little upward turn in it, dimples in the cheek, and the whole expression sunny and full of simple boyish happiness. His voice is most musical, and there is nothing in his look or bearing, spite of the strongly-marked forehead, to suggest the High Priest of Pre-Raphaelitism. (Journals of Caroline Fox, 231–2)

Hunt did, however, regard himself in this light and had declared, in the diary of his visit to the Dead Sea in November 1854: ‘I regard my occupation as somewhat akin to that of the priests’ (Bronkhurst, ‘An interesting series’, 115). He took on himself a priestlike role because he believed that factual information conveyed visually was valuable in itself, nature being a repository of transcendent truth. Like the priests, what he sought was no less than ‘the power of undying appeal to the hearts of living men’ (Pre-Raphaelitism, 1st edn, 1.48). One of the most immediate means of achieving this in the Victorian age was by painting pictures that told a story. Indeed, Hunt claimed that ‘The Literature and Art of an age are ever inspired by a kindred spirit, the latter faithfully following the former’ (ibid., 1.325–6), a view that in his later years isolated him from progressive trends in English painting. He was committed to incorporating meaning in his major works, but not at the expense of conveying a convincing representation of nature, whether in terms of landscape or an intensely realized human situation. In a pamphlet issued in 1865, An Apology for the Symbolism Introduced into the Picture called The Light of the World, he stated that ‘The first ambition of the painter … should be to give a delightsome aspect to all his representations’ (p. 2). Whether he consistently achieved this aim is questionable but what is beyond doubt is his power to create some unforgettable images.

In the same pamphlet Hunt declared that ‘It is for each artist to decide for himself which principle he will adopt, not to make laws for others’ (An Apology, 2). His intellectually questing nature was never content to take anything on trust, whether in terms of art or religion. Although he regarded himself as an Anglican this did not ‘forbid a feeling of fellowship with any other communities that call upon the God of Abraham as their God’ (‘Religion and art’, 41). His dislike of narrow sectarianism—which underlies the composition of The Hireling Shepherd and Our English Coasts, 1852—deepened into disgust on his first visit to Jerusalem, where he found squabbling Christian sects vying with each other to convert the poverty-stricken Jews. Bribery was endemic and Hunt was so incensed by the activities of Samuel Gobat, Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, in this respect that in 1858 he published a pamphlet unmasking him (Jerusalem: Bishop Gobat in re Hanna Hadoub). This almost certainly ruined Hunt's chances of ever receiving a major church commission. In a letter of 1890 he criticized Anglican church decoration for ‘using Art—not for instruction—only in a sort of heraldic form. This is—in my eyes—a very grave defect, for it makes unbelievers treat our divine faith as only a fossilised myth’ (Brumbaugh, 89). The implication is that his own instructive religious art had such a powerful impact because it stemmed from an intensely personal form of protestantism, which enabled him to reinvigorate sacred themes.

The influence of The Light of the World as a protestant icon cannot be overestimated. For many years it was illustrated in the Book of Common Prayer, and reproductions of the image continue to sell in their thousands. It has inspired artists ranging from G. F. Watts to Henry Moore, and together with The Awakening Conscience and The Scapegoat it is regularly caricatured in the British press (for example, in a cartoon by Peter Brookes in The Times of 29 January 1983). This suggests that these images are considered part of the national consciousness, and it is certainly true that in the late twentieth century Hunt's reputation recovered from the backlash that it suffered in the early and mid-twentieth century, when his didacticism and meticulous technique were generally regarded as unacceptable. In 1969 Mary Bennett's pioneering exhibition of Hunt's works, at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, included 63 oil paintings (out of a relatively small output of less than 170 known works), and displayed his versatility, which ranged from the accomplished, hard-edged drawings of the late 1840s to portraits and watercolours, etchings and illustrations.

But, despite the sums that his major works fetch at auction, by the start of the twenty-first century Hunt had not regained the sort of popularity that the British public accords to paintings of alluring women by more decorative Victorian artists. Yet works such as The Afterglow in EgyptThe ScapegoatIsabella, or, The Pot of Basil, and The Shadow of Death, as well as those of the high Pre-Raphaelite period, are deeply memorable on all levels. Together with The Lady of Shalott they have an enduring place in the history of British art.

Hunt's significance as one of the three original founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and the only one to have remained true to its original principles, was acknowledged on 19 July 1879, when Vanity Fair published a caricature of him entitled The Pre-Raphaelite of the World. The way in which many of his major paintings focus on highly dramatic situations, fusing truth to nature with a serious moral message, struck such a chord with the Victorians that his influence during his lifetime can be compared to that of Thomas Carlyle, Ruskin, and Charles Dickens.

Judith Bronkhurst  DNB