The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt, 1827 - 1910

The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt 1827 - 1910


Vividly coloured depiction of a russet coloured goat on the brink of death. The goat stands in the centre foreground, head lowered, haunches caving in, and tongue hanging out. The desert landscape in which it stands is barren. It is dominated by a range of hills in purple and pink, above which is a yellow and pink sky with a bright sun in the upper left corner and almost black clouds in the right; in contrast to the dark weight of the clouds is a rainbow, which appears in the right of the composition, at the foot of which is the carcass of a camel. To the left of the goat and echoing its inevitable fate is the skull of an ibex, silhouetted against the reflected light of the sun. The goat has been cast out into the wilderness to suffer for the sins of Man. The painting explores the Old Testament description of the Jewish ritual of atonement: "And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." (Leviticus, 16, 22), and Isaiah, 1, 18: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool". Wound around the base of the goat's horns is red wool, symbolising the sins with which it has been burdened. Frame: made of oak, softwood and compo, gilded; probably original to the painting; outer border of beading, then reeding framing a frieze of flower heads in roundels, with an inner border of beading.

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 Scapegoat

Creators Name

William Holman Hunt

Date Created



Frame (sight edge): 32.2cm x 45.3cm
Canvas: 33.7cm x 45.9cm
Frame (outer edge): 62.6cm x 74.4cm

accession number


Place of creation

Dead Sea




oil paint


Manchester Art Gallery


© Manchester Art Gallery

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