Arts & Crafts

The Awakening Conscience

This painting, by the Pre-Raphaelite Holman Hunt, was completed in 1853.
He always said that it was a materialistic counterpart to his famous religious work 'Light of the World'.
In fact, since the girl in the picture was the painter's mistress for a number of years, it is a reflection of the hypocrisy of the age.
Typically for its time,everywhere in the painting there are symbolic clues to the message it portrays.
The discarded gloves, lying on the carpet,speak of a cast-off mistress, the tangle of embroidery threads symbolize the web in which she is trapped, the crafty cat crouched under the chair emphasizes her threatened life, the rolled-up music is 'Tears, idle Tears', and in the mirror we can see the idyllic outside view.
The young man has been playing on the piano:
'Oft in the stilly night
When slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me.'

No doubt the words have struck a chord in her guilty heart.
The young woman has no wedding ring, and her face expresses her realisation of the position she is in.
In the exhibition even the picture-frame carried a message; the artist asked for it to be inscribed with a verse from Proverbs about a 'heavy heart.'

Holman Hunt was awarded the Order of Merit for his work in spite of his contradictory life-style, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

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