The Lantern Maker's Courtship William Holman Hunt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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William Holman Hunt was famous for his strong sense of detail, and also embracing symbolism, which is heavily featured in all his works, including this one in which a treatise could be written on the subject of the orange peel to be found at the feet of the target of the Lantern Maker's affections, amongst other features.

This love of symbolism was inspired by Ruskin and Carlyle, who were writing at the time. Holman Hunt's paintings all have a wonderful realism without being in the least photographic: portraits, buildings and even animals are accurately rendered without it ever being possible to think one is looking through a window, as with some of the Dutch Masters, such as Vermeer. This earned him some opprobrium in his early days, before his style and skills became more appreciated. This is equally true in the case of The Lantern Maker's Courtship with both parties being recognisable despite the lack of hyperrealism.

Many of Holman Hunt's other works, set in England, feature an arch-like or circular effect in the top half of the paintings. This gives the works a beautifully framed and ordered appearance, as though the whole scene was arranged simply for the painter. This is not the case with this painting in which the casual, informal pose of the lantern maker and his girl and their positioning – rather awkwardly at the side of a narrow road which is packed with camels and people from every walk of life – gives the whole painting a lively snap-shot effect that speaks of an unposed but dramatic moment, almost as though Holman Hunt were passing by and leaned out to take a quick photo of a moment in the life of the craftsman.

Despite the informal effect of the painting, Holman Hunt's attention to detail can be seen in the drape and puff of the fabric, the careful depiction of the eastern-style shoes and dress, as well as the minutiae of the lantern maker's tools and the finished and half-finished lanterns hanging nearby. The rich blue and vibrant red that leap from the canvas are typical of his works, in which colour is used to brighten and enliven what would otherwise be fairly ordinary daily scenes.