Room 3 Holy Lands

William Holman Hunt The Scapegoat 1854–5

William Holman Hunt
The Scapegoat 1854–5
Oil on canvas
33.7 x 45.9 cm

Courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

The watercolours of the Sphinx which Holman Hunt and Thomas Seddon painted in Egypt in 1854 inaugurated a new dimension of Pre-Raphaelitism. Prior to their travels, the Pre-Raphaelite interest in landscape was in nature, not views of places. But before Hunt left the Holy Land he could proclaim that the movement’s next stage should be devoted to producing ‘faithful pictures of scenes interesting from historical considerations or from the strangeness of the subject itself’.

The two painters went to the East not only as artists, but as devout pilgrims. Hunt intended the horrendous setting of The Scapegoat to convey important knowledge about the landscape of the Bible. All the work he and Seddon produced in and near Jerusalem has implicit, if not explicit, religious meaning.

But as the fierce pieties of earlier Victorian England began to wither, no one followed in their footsteps. Around 1860 the worship of culture and of art, Aestheticism, began to join and displace traditional forms of devotion, and Italy would be the main destination of Aesthetic pilgrimage. Particularly to artists calling themselves ‘Pre-Raphaelite’, the lure of Florence was perhaps inevitable. It became the new Jerusalem of a religion of beauty.