Monday, 26 October 2009

A Note on Richard Hooker's Impact on Pre-Raphaelite Art

William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, 1851

Now that Hooker is slowly re-emerging in academic journals and theological discussions, it seems that there is anther area to be explored: Hooker's impact on art. In the 19th century, Keble's edition of Hooker's works were widely read. This passage from the ODNB perfectly captures the various connections between Ruskin, Hooker, and the Pre-Raphaelites:

In May 1851 he [Holman Hunt] wrote to the poet Coventry Patmore, who had been responsible for enlisting Ruskin's support, asking to borrow a copy of the works of the seventeenth-century theologian Richard Hooker. He added: 'As however I am obliged to read for my next year's subjects much just now, I hope you will be able to spare it some time'. Hooker provided the theme of The Hireling Shepherd, with its underlying attack on sectarianism for deflecting the clergy from the task of tending their flock. The picture marks out a new direction, in which the symbolism is so arcane as to be virtually impenetrable without a literary gloss. The painting can, however, be enjoyed on many levels. Its sunlit landscape, with its closely observed blue shadows, was painted at Ewell, Surrey, between June and December 1851 and was Hunt's most ambitious attempt at naturalism to date.

Hooker's writing not only impacted Hunt's art, but it also prompted the painter to take social action:
His dislike of narrow sectarianism-which underlies the composition of The Hireling Shepherd and Our English Coasts, 1852-deepened into disgust on his first visit to Jerusalem, where he found squabbling Christian sects vying with each other to convert the poverty-stricken Jews. Bribery was endemic and Hunt was so incensed by the activities of Samuel Gobat, Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, in this respect that in 1858 he published a pamphlet unmasking him (ODNB).
Along with Ruskin's observations about paintings by Tintoretto, Hooker's works must also be included as influences on Hunt's art, including 'The Shadow of Death,' which we looked at a few weeks ago. For more context to the painting, click here.

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