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'The Triumph of the Innocents', William Holman Hunt

The Virgin Mary on a donkey holding baby Jesus, surrounded by angels

  • Oil on linen 157.5 cm x 247.7 cm (62" x 97 1/2")
  • An area of canvas 23" x 17" is inserted to include the head of the Virgin and Child.
  • Signed in monogram and dated 76Whh87

The landscape setting is on the road to Gaza, at a spot about a day's journey from Bethlehem. Originally, Hunt had intended the whole picture to be bathed in moonlight. Feeling that this would be too monotonous, he instead gave a luminous supernatural glow to the foreground infants.

The work differs from the earlier 'Scapegoat' and 'Finding of the Saviour in the Temple' in that Hunt here tonally separates foreground and background and does not give equal attention to all parts of the picture. Much more detail is lavished on the foreground.

In landscape and figures, Hunt sought to reproduce as closely as possible the event as it might have looked. In one of his letters to Harold Rathbone he wrote;

'I am always interested to the deepest extent in the illustration of religious history by such means. Since I first knew the East, the opportunities of illustrating old events by existing customs and tradition has enormously decreased, and in another fifty years the world will wonder why, when the mood of European manners had not destroyed primitive forms, painters had not full worked to perpetuate these'

Sidney Colvin characterised Hunt's attitude well;

'He shows himself a child of his age by attending first of all to geography and ethnology and archaeology and local colour, performing the work of "Societies of Biblical Archaeology"',

Hunt's interest in depicting scriptural episodes with geographical and historical accuracy was not merely scientific but designed to awaken the spectator's religious emotions and make him confront the problem of whether or not these biblical events had taken place.