The Light of the World (painting)

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The Light of the World

The Light of the World (1853–54) is an allegorical painting by William Holman Hunt representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me". According to Hunt: "I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject."[1] The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing "the obstinately shut mind".[2] Hunt, 50 years after painting it, felt he had to explain the symbolism.[3]

The original, painted at night in a makeshift hut at Worcester Park Farm in Surrey, is now in a side room off the large chapel at Keble College, Oxford.[4][5] Toward the end of his life, Hunt painted a life-size version, which was hung in St Paul's Cathedral, London, after a world tour where the picture drew large crowds. Due to Hunt's increasing infirmity, he was assisted in the completion of this version by English painter Edward Robert Hughes.

This painting inspired much popular devotion in the late Victorian period and inspired several musical works, including Sir Arthur Sullivan's 1873 oratorio The Light of the World.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

  • plays a significant role in the plot of the 2010 two-part time travel novel Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis
  • mentioned in the 12th chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, hanging in the First Purchase African M.E. Church of Maycomb.
  • mentioned in Tipping The Velvet, the 1998 debut novel by British author Sarah Waters.
  • appears in Terrence Malick's 1978 film Days of Heaven
  • frequently mentioned throughout the Merrily Watkins novels by Phil Rickman.
  • erroneously identified as a private portrait - for comic effect - in the novel Rioutous Assembly, written by Tom Sharpe
  • Given mention at the start of the 1987 film Maurice. The painting (presumably a replica) was given as a gift to Maurice Hall.


  1. ^ Forbes, C (2001), "Images of Christ In Nineteenth-Century British Paintings In The Forbes Magazine Collection", Magazine Antiques, December 2001.
  2. ^ Hunt, W.H., Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, London: Macmillan, 1905, vol.1 p.350
  3. ^ The Victorian Web
  4. ^ Hunt, W.H., Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, London: Macmillan, 1905, vol.1 p.299-300.
  5. ^ Nick Dalton (21 August 2012). Frommer's England and the Best of Wales. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 349–. ISBN 978-1-118-33137-8. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  6. ^ The Victorian Web

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]