Symbolism in 'The Triumph of the Innocents'
Hunt's approach to the rather traditional subject of the Flight into Egypt was novel, not to say eccentric. Showing the attendant spirits of the massacred boy children, leading the Holy Family in a semi-ritualistic procession was without precedent.
In the top left-hand corner a group of three boys rouse themselves from earthbound death. One clasps a bird (symbol of the soul), which will shortly awake and take wing.
Beneath is a further group of boys bedecked with garlands of flowers and holding spring blossoms. Hunt intended to stress decoration ready for sacrifice.
In the foreground, a solitary boy examines his rent shirt. The death blow on his side has healed.
At the far right, a further group of infants lead the whole procession. One child has dropped a vine, another is about to throw a palm leaf (traditional symbol of martyrdom) before Christ.
The jelly-like surface on which the children stand is Hunt's rendering of water continually flowing - 'the stream of eternal life'.
Hunt described the bubbles which float upwards in the picture as 'magnified globes which image the thoughts rife in that age in the minds of pious Jews'. The figures in the smaller orb are difficult to decipher; they include a naked figure, a tree and possibly a snake.
The larger foreground sphere, Hunt explained, contains a lamb - symbolic of Christ, surrounded by a green circle, and worshiped by the Elders in Heaven. In the circle beneath are those who broken-heartedly turn towards Heaven. In their midst is the Tree of Life for the healing of all nations.
As with the earlier works, Hunt designed the frame as part of the picture. A combination of small classical decorations sets off the dominant larger repeat pattern of alternating pomegranates and what appear to be fuchias.
The pomegranate has twofold Christian symbolic significance. Because it contains countless seeds enclosed in a sphere, it is viewed as symbolic of the membership of Christian church, united in Christ. Because it is a red fleshy fruit, it has also been associated with the bloody suffering of Christ's body on the cross. Fuchias have no special traditional meaning, and Hunt may have intended them as an echo on the frame of the floral garlands in the painting.