The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: ‘Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’)’
Today I will be looking at one of the first paintings exhibited by John Everett Millais as part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: ‘Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’). The oil on canvas painting was the cause for great controversy when it was first exhibited in the Royal Academy, unnamed but accompanied by a Biblical quotation:
“And one shall say unto him, What are those wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zech. 13:6)
Early studies as Millais tried to create a composition
Dissecting the piece we see a young Christ in the foreground with his mother Mary kneeling on the floor of his father Joseph’s carpentry shop. Upon closer inspection one can clearly see a cut on the on the raised palm of Jesus, foreshadowing his later crucifixion. We may also note the hand gesture Christ presents his wound with is not an uncommon pose in Christian iconography.
The colours used in the clothing of Christ and Mary are also reflect their stereotypical portrayal in religious art – Christ in pure white simple dress, Mary garbed in blue as a symbol of her virginity. We also find John the Baptist looking meek in the right-hand corner, carrying a bowl of water to tend to Christ’s wound.
The controversy the piece caused was all down to it’s depiction of the figures it included. The everyday mundanity of their faces and setting were offensive to the staunch Victorians.
A famous contemporary of Millais, Charles Dickens, was particularly disgusted by the painting and described the young Christ as: ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’.
Dr Rebecca Jeffery Easby would later comment: ‘At a time when most religious paintings of the Holy Family were calm and tranquil groupings, this active event in the young life of the Savior must have seemed extremely radical.’
Fowle, F. (2000) The Tate Official Website
Easby, R Smart History: Sir John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents
Landow, G. (1980) Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents