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The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt

The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt
  • Date: 1854
  • Style: Symbolism
  • Genre: religious painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: fields-and-plains, cliffs-and-rocks
  • Dimensions: 45.9 x 33.7 cm
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The Scapegoat depicts the "scapegoat" described in the Book of Leviticus. On the Day of Atonement, a goat would have its horns wrapped with a red cloth - representing the sins of the community - and be driven off.
He started painting on the shore of the Dead Sea, and continued in his studio in London. The work exists in two versions, a small version in brighter colours with a dark-haired goat and a rainbow, held by Manchester Art Gallery, and a larger version in more muted tones with a light-haired goat held by the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight.
The painting was the only major work completed by Hunt during his first trip to the Holy Land, to which he had travelled after a crisis of religious faith. Hunt intended to experience the actual locations of the Biblical narratives as a means to confront the relationship between faith and truth.

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The Scapegoat (1854–56) is a painting by William Holman Hunt which depicts the "scapegoat" described in the Book of Leviticus. On the Day of Atonement, a goat would have its horns wrapped with a red cloth – representing the sins of the community – and be driven off.

Hunt started painting on the shore of the Dead Sea, and continued it in his studio in London. The work exists in two versions, a small version in brighter colours with a dark-haired goat and a rainbow, in Manchester Art Gallery, and a larger version in more muted tones with a light-haired goat in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight. Both were created over the same period, with the smaller Manchester version being described as "preliminary" to the larger Lady Lever version, which was the one exhibited.

In the Royal Academy exhibition catalogue Hunt wrote that "the scene was painted at Oosdoom, on the margin of the salt-encrusted shallows of the Dead Sea. The mountains beyond are those of Edom." He painted most of the work on location in 1854, but completed the work in London in the following year, adding some touches in 1856 before it was exhibited at the academy in that year.

The painting was the only major work completed by Hunt during his first trip to the Holy Land, to which he had travelled after a crisis of religious faith. Hunt intended to experience the actual locations of the Biblical narratives as a means to confront the relationship between faith and truth. While in Jerusalem, Hunt had met Henry Wentworth Monk, a millenarian prophet who had distinctive theories about the meaning of the scapegoat and the proximity of the Last Judgement. Monk was particularly preoccupied with Christian Zionism.

Hunt chose a subject derived from the Torah as part of a project to convert Jews to Christianity. He believed that Judaic views of the scapegoat were consistent with the Christian conception of the Messiah as a suffering figure. He wrote to his friend Millais, "I am sanguine that [the Scapegoat] may be a means of leading any reflecting Jew to see a reference to the Messiah as he was, and not as they understand, a temporal King."

The Book of Leviticus describes a "scapegoat" which must be ritually expelled from the flocks of the Israelite tribes as part of a sacrificial ritual of cleansing. In line with traditional Christian theology, Hunt believed that the scapegoat was a prototype for the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus, and that the goat represented that aspect of the Messiah described in Isaiah as a "suffering servant" of God. Hunt had the picture framed with the quotations "Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows; Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4) and "And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited." (Leviticus 16:22)

The reaction to the painting was not as Hunt expected. In his autobiography Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt relates the first reaction to the painting by art dealer Ernest Gambart:

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →


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