The Disputation: The Enduring Representations in William Holman Hunt's “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1860

Abstract

This interdisciplinary thesis problematizes the Jewish presence in the painting The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1860) by William Holman Hunt. This “Jewish presence” refers to characters within the painting, Jews who posed for the picture and the painting’s portrayal of Judaism. The thesis takes a phenomenological and hermeneutical approach to The Finding providing careful description and interpretation of what appears in the painting. It situates the painting within a newly configured genre of disputation paintings depicting the Temple scene from the Gospel of Luke (2:47 – 52). It asks two questions. Why does The Finding look the way it does? And how did Holman Hunt know how to create the picture? Under the rubric of the first question, it explores and challenges customary accounts of the painting, explicitly challenging the over reliance upon F.G. Stephens’s pamphlet. Additionally, it examines Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian religious contexts and bringing hitherto unacknowledged artistic contexts to the fore. The second question examines less apparent influences through an analysis of the originary Lukan narrative in conjunction with the under-examined genre of Temple “disputation” paintings, and a legacy of scholarly and religious disputation. This demonstrates a discourse of disputation informing The Finding over and above the biblical narrative. In showing that this discourse strongly correlates with the painting’s objectifying and spectacular properties, this thesis provides a new way to understand The Finding’s orientalism which is further revealed in its typological critical reworking of two Christian medieval and renaissance paintings. As a demonstration of the discourse, the thesis includes an examination of Jewish artists who addressed the theme of disputation overtly or obliquely thereby engaging with and challenging the assumptions upon which the disputation rests

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