New Light on the Light of the World


  • Bronwyn Eleanor Hughes Adjunct Fellow University of Queensland


art, stained glass, Light of the World


William Holman Hunt's Light of the World (1851-53) was a remarkable painting that depicted an idealised vision of his conversion to Evangelical Protestantism.  The derogatory critics and fierce debates that greeted the Pre-Raphaelite paintings at Royal Academy exhibitions from 1850 in no way abated when the Light of the World and other PRB works were hung in 1854.  Acceptance of the Light of the World was gradual, significantly aided by a long explanatory letter from John Ruskin published in The Times (5 May 1854 p. 9) that explained the symbolism in great detail, championing the work as the principal Pre-Raphaelite picture in the Exhbition and one of the noblest works of sacred art ever painted.  Curious Londoners flocked to see it, but there was no inkling then of its influence on religious art, poetry and illustration that would continue well into the twentieth century; no less influential was its impact on stained glass.  Almost immediately it was embraced as a new subject for church windows of all denominations.

The global tour of Hunt's larger copy of the Light of the World reached Australia in 1906 where, preceded by clever pre-publicity, it generated huge interest in cities and country centres here and in New Zealand.  The effect of the 'blockbuster' tour was far-reaching, with hundreds of stained glass windows appearing in churches across the country for the next fifty years.  This paper explores William Holman Hunt's co-option of illumination as metaphor and reality, the factors behind the longevity of the Light of the World as a stained glass phenomenon in Australia, and its universal appeal to Protestant church-goers.


Works Cited

Bronkhurst, J. William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné. Volumes I and II. New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale U P, 2006.

Brooks, Robinson & Co. Job books (1923-c1966), transcribed by the author, 1993. Private Collection.

Ciaran, F. Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury New Zealand. Dunedin: Otago U P: 1998.

Couissinier, Rev. M. B. A Pictorial Catechism: After Original Designs by G. R. Elster, engraved by R. Bren’amour. Paris and London: A. W. Ghulgen, Paris and John Philp, 1862.

[F. J. D.] “Seeing a Picture.” Sydney Morning Herald 7 April 1906: 13.

Freeman, L. “Twee, Treacly and Tearful: Pre-Raphaelites at the Walker Art Gallery Reviewed.” The Spectator 27 Feb. 2016. Accessed 19 Jan. 2018.

Geidraityte, D. “Stained and Painted Glass in the Sydney Region c. 1830-c. 1920.” MA thesis, University of Sydney 1975.

Henty, F. MS 2821 Box 674/1, State Library of Victoria.

Hunt, W. H. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. London: Macmillan & Co., 1905.

Hughes, B. “Twentieth Century Stained Glass in Melbourne Churches.” M.A. thesis, The University of Melbourne, 1997.

Landow, G. P. William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale U P, 1979.

——. ‘Victorian Art Criticism and the Rise of a Middle-Class Audience’. The Victorian Web: Literature History and Culture in the Age of Victoria.

——. “Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism,” The Victorian Web: Literature History and Culture in the Age of Victoria. Accessed 30 October 2017.

Maas, J. Gambart: Prince of the Victorian Art World. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1975.

——. Holman Hunt and the Light of the World. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 1984.

McCulloch, Susan and Child, Emily McCulloch. Fitzroy: Aust. Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006.

Orval, Noel and Rachael. “Jean Orval, Stained Glass Artist.” Accessed 19 Jan. 2018.

Robertson, Iain. Understanding Art Markets: Inside the World of Art and Business. Milton Park: Routledge, 2016.

Seale, Clem. “Sydney Sketchbook” cartoon depicting the interior of John Ashwin & Co.’s studio in Dixon Street, Sydney. Sydney Morning Herald 28 Aug. 1954: 9.

Shrewsbury, H. W. Brothers in Art: Studies in William Holman Hunt O.M., D.C.L. and John Everett Millais, Bart., D.C.L., P.R.A. London: Epworth Press, 1920.

Smith, S. “Russell, Francis Thomas Cusack (1823–1876).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, Accessed online 6 June 2016.

“The Royal Academy. The Exhibition 1854.” The Art Journal (London) 1 June 1854: 152-76.

“Viewing Holman Hunt’s Picture, The Light of The World, in the Melbourne National Gallery.” Cartoons and Photograph. The Australasian 24 Feb. 1906: 27.

Young, Blamire. “The Light of the World.” The Argus 24 Feb. 1906: 5.






PreRaphaelitism in Australasia Special Issue