Holman Hunt

OF Holman Hunt, Ruskin says in his Art of England, when comparing him with Dante Gabriel Rossetti: “In all living schools it chances often that the disciple is greater than his master; and it is always the first sign of a dominant and splendid intellect, that it knows of whom to learn.” He speaks of Rossetti’s ” sternly materialistic but deeply reverent veracity,” in painting the life of Christ; but in Holman Hunt’s Light of the World we have such “spiritual passion” that that life became “the greatest of Realities, the only reality, so that there is nothing in the earth for him that does not speak of it.” Ruskin finds in Hunt a new “respect for physical and material truth;” and while Rossetti’s light was “sunshine diffused through coloured glass,” Hunt, as a colourist, gives us “actual sunshine growing leafage, living rock, heavenly cloud.” Referring to his picture of The Strayed Sheep, he says: “Claude’s sun-shine is colourless, only the golden haze of a quiet afternoon.” But, when we see “the pure natural, green, and tufted gold of the herbage in the hollow of the little sea-cliff “—where the sheep have strayed—”the pure sunshine on a bank of living grass,” we are “soothed by it and raised into such peace as we are intended to find in the glory and stillness of summer, possessing all things.” He thinks that picture was “the first that cast true sunshine on the grass.”

Ruskin goes on to comment on Holman Hunt’s conception of the Flight into Egypt, and to compare it with “former conceptions, in which the Holy Family were always represented as watched over and ministered to by attendant angels. But only the safety and peace of the Divine Child and its Mother, are thought of. No sadness, or wonder of meditation, returns to the desolate homes of Bethlehem. But in this English picture all the story of the escape as of the flight, is told in fulness of peace, and yet of compassion. The travel is in the dead of the night, the way unseen and unknown; but, partly stooping from the starlight, and partly floating with the desert mirage, move with the Holy Family the glorified souls of the Innocents. Clear in celestial light, and gathered into child-garlands of gladness, they look to the Child in whom they live; while water of the river of life flows before them on the sands.” Ruskin thought that “none of the groups and processions of children in the loveliest sculpture of the Robbia’s and Donatello’s can more than rival the freedom and felicity of motion in the happy wreaths of these angel children.”