The Light of the World by Holman Hunt

I’ve always loved the pre-Raphaelite painters with their richness of colour, texture and mythic themes, not to mention that I would have made a perfect model for them.

Holman Hunt’s most famous painting, The Light of the World, is a feast of richness and mystery. The figure is assumed to be Jesus, a very English interpretation, standing at a door and knocking but look closer and notice some interesting things.

The door is already open and yet, it seems little used. Wild plants grow up around the doorway, untrampled and mostly undisturbed. The door is in fact wedged open. It’s also hard to tell whether the door is going out or coming into somewhere. Jesus looks sad. He looks like he is coming to remind someone of something they have forgotten, as if he is knocking to tell people, hey look the door is open, it’s been open for years, why don’t you come through?

He also looks uncertain, as if he doesn’t know how he is going to be welcomed and given that crown of thorns on his head, can you blame him. I imagine he is tapping lightly but without bravado on that door, persistently alerting us to the fact that the door is open, but he is simply standing there. Where does the doorway lead to and where does it lead from?

Who is waiting for who? Is he waiting for us to come to him or is he waiting to be told he can come in?

Is it later than we think?

25 thoughts on “The Light of the World by Holman Hunt

  1. No answers to any of your evocative questions…just to say I’m enjoying the focus on doorways, in and out. Like crossroads, so evocative of possibilities, choices, transitions, memories, future, this present moment…….Reminds me of Gate cards in the tarot. xx


  2. I recognised the image the moment I saw it, I have a white leather bound book of common prayer, given to me as an infant, on the occasion of my baptism.

    At boarding school, I used to look at a black and white, engraved version of this painting, and wonder what he was thinking.


  3. The usual interpretation of this painting is that Jesus Christ doesn’t force himself on anybody – he waits to be invited into the human heart – which is what the NT says.


  4. A wonderful painting and apparently meant to hang alongside his ‘Awakening Conscience’. Holman Hunt has always been the Pre-Raphaelite I admire the most.


    • That makes huge sense. I love that painting too.
      I have a pre-Raph calender from a few years ago that I use with my students for creative writing prompts, and they produce some rich prose and sometimes poetry too.
      thanks for giving me that snipper; it helps too.


  5. It’s such a beautiful painting and it resonates with me, as well as floating my aesthetic boat in a big way. I think I might love a print of it too. Thanks Viv, this is what I need right now 🙂


  6. This is the first time I have ever seem this painting. It is quite beautiful. I have been staring at it for quite sometime. I feel the answers and perception are a personal one, each and every view is right. Thank you for opening my eyes


  7. Look at the door, there are no handle. This is the door to our hearts, cause on this door there are no outside handle. A door to the heart can only be opend from the inside.


  8. While reading Anne Perry’s latest Christmas novel, A Christmas Homecoming, a reference to this painting in the book required my inquisitive mind to do a search of the painting and, of course, your post came up on my search. Very nice post.


  9. I just found your blog and linked to it from my own, as I published a post about the Heavenly City, in which I referred to Holman Hunt. I love this painting myself. When I visited St Paul’s Cathedral last year, seeing The Light of the World displayed in a separate chapel was so beautiful. It was one of the most moving moments during my time in London. I love your blog & will become a follower.


    • hiya,
      nice to meet you. I must one day go and see the picture itself in situ but I am only in London for work and never get a moment to slip away that far. Plus, as a member of the Church of England, I get annoyed at paying to enter a place of worship.
      can you give me the link to your post about the Heavenly City?


      • Thank you for your reply – here’s the link to my post I’m planning to update it with an image later on today
        I too get frustrated at paying to go into places of worship – they always make it clear they never charge people who are coming in to attend a service, or to pray… but I have often wondered how they satisfy themselves you’re going in to pray as opposed to looking around! e.g. in Westminster Abbey. After all, you could be praying all the time you’re going round!


  10. Pingback: A Decade of Tightrope Walking – a celebration of ten years of blogging – Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking

  11. Did anyone else know that the model for the painting wasn’t a man – it was one of the Pre-Raphaelite women? So only the face is masculine (I don’t know if anyone modeled for that).It is nonetheless very popular as a thought-provoking work. I read an autobiography by Holman Hunt’s granddaughter, and she was shown by her grandmother (then his widow) the flowing robes used for the model tower for the painting. Hunt’s widow had a collection of garments and props she kept from the various paintings, and used to enjoy taking people to view this painting.


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