Art Notes: The Light of the World

Authored by Dr. Lionel Gracey in Issue #31.1 of The Sower

‘Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ (Rev.3:20). It was this verse from the Book of Revelation that inspired William Holman Hunt, a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to paint this picture in 1851, to repeat the painting in 1900, and eventually to become a Christian.

In his 2009 Letter proclaiming the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI quotes a passage from the writings of the Cure d’Ars, St John Vianney, the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, which resonates with the above text from Revelation: ‘The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven. It is he who opens the door.’

The metaphor of the door links the two passages, and both implicitly allude to Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, which is our greatest treasure. Accordingly, Hunt’s Light of the World is an appropriate painting for these Art Notes, which are intended to link with the Year for Priests.

An important aim of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, was to produce religious paintings which combined Naturalism and realistic Representation with easily accessible symbolism, designed ‘to elucidate, not to mystify, truth.’ Hunt’s painting achieves this goal admirably.

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