In the parable of the virgins, told by Matthew, ten maidens wait expectantly for the bridegroom to arrive. They each have a lamp, but only five of them have enough oil to last the evening. The others have to go out to buy more oil and they miss the bridegroom’s arrival.
Millais frequently painted pictures showing young women outdoors. The girl lying in the foreground of this illustration resembles the figure in his painting Spring 1857. In Spring, however, the girl lies beneath a scythe, symbolising the passing of youth and beauty.
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