Painting by John Millet “Christ in the Parent’s House” caused a scandal and the beginning of a new trend in art
The picture, in which Christ and his family were depicted as “ordinary people”, caused the once great resonance in English society. Excessive realism was considered by many to be inappropriate and even “disgusting.” But the young artist who created this work had its own motives for that – and time showed that the calculation was justified.
John Everett Millet, who was born in Southampton in 1829, was the author of the picture, which caused an extremely vivid resonance in English society. He was considered a young genius – from the age of nine he showed brilliant abilities in drawing, and from eleven he became the youngest student of the Royal Academy of Arts in its entire history. Among the achievements of Millet during the years of study were the Academy’s silver medal for drawing, the gold medal for the painting, and also the recognition of his work as the best at the 1846 exhibition.
In 1848, nineteen artist made friends with peers – Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti with whom founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, masters of the circle who opposed academic traditions in art, rejected the imitation of the classics and sought canons recognized “to Raphael,” – hence the name of the society. Millet and his comrades believed that the art of their time lacked the “sincerity and simplicity” that existed in the works of artists of the Early Renaissance – Perugino, Bellini, Fra Angelico.
According to the principles of the new direction, paintings were painted only from life, and Millet’s “Christ in the Parent’s House”, which appeared in 1850, is no exception.
Blasphemy or the birth of a new art?
The painting was one of the exhibits of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, becoming for a long time the most discussed of her work. Millet depicted the Holy Family in the atmosphere of an ordinary carpentry workshop. The spectators observe the moment when the young Christ, having injured his arm, probably with a nail, approaches the Mother of God and points to a wound from which blood is dripping. The Virgin Mary is on her knees, O John the Baptist brings a cup of water. Among the other characters in the picture is Saint Anna, pulling a nail out of the table, which apparently became the cause of the wound, Saint Joseph doing his carpentry work with his assistant.
The picture was exhibited without a name, but was accompanied by a quote from the Bible: “They will say to him: why are there scars on your hands? And he will answer: because they beat me in the house of those who love me ”(Zech. 13: 6). Despite the unrealistic realism of the time, the work contained many symbolic references to the Holy Scriptures. The wound on the palm and a drop of blood on the foot indicated the imminent Crucifix, as well as the ladder on the wall of the workshop, which appears in the Bible when describing the removal from the cross. The carpenter’s triangle, which hangs side by side, symbolizes the Trinity, and the dove, the Holy Spirit. Behind the open door, sheep are visible, causing associations with an innocent victim.
A large number of biblical characters, as well as the plot itself, seemed to conflict with the manner in which the picture was written: with realism not characteristic of that time, refusal to idealize figures of saints, violation of traditional ideas about the appearance of the characters. For example, the Mother of God throughout the centuries since the Renaissance was portrayed as a young woman, a blonde.
True to the rule of painting a picture from life, Millet invited his daughter-in-law Mary Hodgkinson to pose for him as an image of the mother of Christ. The figure of Jesus he wrote from the son of one of his friends, John the Baptist – from his cousin, and for the head of Joseph the model was Mille Sr., the father of the artist. The figure of the carpenter, with his sinewy hands, keeping traces of years of work, Millet wrote from a real craftsman, and the situation in the picture itself repeats the interior in which it was created – a carpenter’s workshop on Oxford Street.
“Christ in the parental home” caused a storm of indignation in the venerable London public, in the Times the picture was called “outrageous”, and Charles Dickens described it as “low, vile, disgusting and repulsive.” Especially the appearance of Jesus, depicted by a red-haired Jewish boy in violation of all customary canons, offended the feelings of the audience. The picture, despite the fact that it was filled with light, made the impression too mundane.