The Finding of the Savior in the Temple (1854-1860) is a painting by William Holman Hunt intended as an ethnographically accurate version of the subject traditionally known as “Christ Among the Doctors”. Hunt represents the moment when Mary and Joseph find Jesus , while the rabbis in the temple react in various contrasting ways to his speech, some intrigued, others angry or disdainful. This representation of contrasting reactions is part of the tradition of the subject, as evidenced much earlier by Albrecht Dürer’s version . Hunt would also have known Bernardino Luini’s version on the subject at the National Gallery.
The passage is illustrated in the Gospel according to Luke 2:41 and it states:
‘ Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.’
Obsessed with the idea of revitalising religious art by emphasising ethnographical accuracy combined with detailed Biblical symbolism, Hunt had travelled to the Middle East to create the picture, using local people as models and studying ancient Judaic customs and rituals.
Progress on the painting was delayed by difficulties with models, and eventually Hunt postponed it to another work. He eventually completed it in 1860, back in England.
The painting of William Holman Hunt is in the bright pure colours of the Pre-Raphaelites, who had the purpose of rendering art a functional and edifying goal: their works had the function of being moral. Religious art of Hunt is a unique piece of creation, and represent a great opportunity to understand the idea of morality in the Pre-Raphaelite era and the ambition of the whole movement in delivering of their messages.
🖋️ Text by Claudiu C. Crețu
🖼️ Illustration via Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
📌 The Bunget Arts & Culture 2020