Art We Love: A Truly Luminous Pre-Raphaelite Christ

On William Holman Hunt's 'The Light of the World' (1853).

William Holman Hunt's The Light of the World (1853), (with the original lantern from the painting), at Keble College Chapel, Oxford. (Photo by Tim Ockenden - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

For an episode of the Art Angle podcast, we asked Artnet News writers and editors to tell us about one work of art that brings them joy. The following is a part of a series of transcripts of the answers. You can listen to the entire podcast on Apple Music, Spotify, or here


The work I’ve chosen is William Holman Hunt’s 1853 painting The Light of the World, which is hung in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford. This feels like a potentially odd choice from an atheist because the painting is an allegorical depiction of Jesus taken from Revelation 3: Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

Jesus stands at a door, which is overgrown with ivy and which can only be opened from the inside as it has no handle. Almost-bare trees in the background and fallen fruit and leaves on the ground let us know that this is autumn. He’s holding a lit lantern and the warm glow that pours from it illuminates him from a deep, green, early dawn.

It’s said that it took Holman Hunt so long to complete the painting because he wanted to perfectly capture this moment, just before the sunrise. It’s classically Pre-Raphaelite in style. Jesus’s robe is heavily decorated and the lantern is ornate, with clear influence taken from Holman Hunt’s travels in the Middle East.

This artwork brings me joy because near to it in the chapel is a button that when you press it illuminates the painting, making the gold leaf shine. And I just think it’s a really fun idea. It is satisfying watching the painting change after you press the button, and I think that it shows that we can be creative in the way that we hang and display older artworks. It really brings this piece to life—almost in the same way that bringing a lit candle up close to paintings with gold leaf on them would have brought the colors to life in places of worship in the Middle Ages.


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