The Shadow of Death

William Holman Hunt, 1827 - 1910

The Shadow of Death

William Holman Hunt 1827 - 1910


Public: The picture shows a carpenter's workshop. A youthful Christ, depicted as muscular and tanned, stands facing the front and stretching, with eyes gazing towards the sky. He is stripped to the waist with a white garment tied round his waist. The scene is bathed in the light of a late afternoon sun. Mary is to his left. She kneels on the floor of the workshop, She is opening a large chest filled with the gifts of the Magi, her head turned towards the back wall where the shadow of Christ is cast as a premonition of the Crucifixion. An array of tools in a wooden bracket mounted on the wall refer to the shape of the Cross. The workshop is filled with carpentry tools and other objects, most of which carry some symbolic significance or or allude to a more complex narrative. A pair of arched windows behind the figure of Christ reveal an extensive landscape, with a fig tree appearing through the right window (an allusion to St Luke, 22:29-31); above the windows and located between them in the upper right corner of the composition is a star-shaped aperture, a reference to the star that led the wise men to the Nativity. Private: Text not to be published to the web.

Display Label

Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.

Object Name

The Shadow of Death

Creators Name

William Holman Hunt

Date Created



Support: 214.2cm x 168.2cm
Frame: 260.9cm x 217cm
Crated weight:

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint

On Display

[G7] Manchester Art Gallery - Gallery 7
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© Manchester Art Gallery

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