Monday, 17 August 2009

Jesus the Gingy 'Jew Boy' Joiner

Millais 1849-1850
Christ in the House of His Parents--John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

This painting, or rather the harsh criticism it received, was the catalyst for Ruskin's relationship with John Everett Millais, and pitted him against the Royal Society (people like Dickens who really liked Joshua Reynolds). Click here for his letter to The Times which established the relationship between Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites in the Victorian consciousness

Most woodworkers would probably admire the way Millais painted the shavings on the floor of Joseph's shop (with nary a handplane in sight...). In fact, Dickens did concede that 'it is particularly gratifying to observe that such objects as the shavings which are strewn on the carpenter’s floor are admirably painted.' However, Dickens did go on to make futher comments, which, while hilarious at times were not particularly generous to Millais. For the more complete text of his critique, click here.

Unfortunately, not all critics have an interest in woodworking, and many were certainly not impressed with the realism of Millais's carpentry shop:
But this painful display of anatomical knowledge, and studious vulgarity of portraying the youthful Saviour as a red-headed Jew boy, and the sublime personage of the virgin a sore-heeled, ugly, every-day sempstress, will in no way tend to the consummation so devoutly to be wished'--click here for the rest
To add insult to injury, the model for the virgin, or 'sore-heeled, ugly, everyday sempstress' was actually Millais's mother! Oh no he didn't!

Side note (or endnote, rather): After receiving a comment on previous post that an appended comic depicting Jesus as a carpenter may have been offensive to Christian readers (so far, no complaints) i went off in search of paintings which portrayed Jesus as a woodworker. This is the first instalment of some rather interesting results. 


  1. Interesting painting and article, and quite funny, too. "To add insult to injury, the model for the virgin, or 'sore-heeled, ugly, everyday sempstress' was actually Millais's mother!" -- I actually did laugh out loud.

    In addition to the wood carvings and the "foot fetish," notice the knees. They're remarkably realistic. I also found left man's clothing to be surprising, too. The outdoor scene is the least appealing part of the painting for me. And who's the boy on the right . . . what is going on with his expression?

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  2. Hey, Joseph. Thanks for reading and raising interesting questions. I'll look into them.
    Your website has been bookmarked, and i look forward to exploring it! All the best.