top of page

Painter John Everett Millais & The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

Painter John Everett Millais & The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The painting 'Christ in the House of His Parents" focuses on the young Christ whose hand has been injured, being cared for by his mother. Christ’s wound, a cut in his palm, foreshadows his ultimate death on the cross. A young St. John the Baptist carefully brings a bowl of water to clean his wound, symbolic of Christ washing the feet of his disciples. Joseph, St Anne (the Virgin Mary's mother) and a carpenter’s assistant also come to Christ’s aid. This painting was considered radical at the time in that unlike the calm and peaceful paintings of Christ normally seen, this portrayed Christ is His day to day humanity!

"Christ in the House of His Parents" by John Evertt Millais
"Christ in the House of His Parents" by John Evertt Millais

"This is Millais's first important religious subject, showing a scene from the boyhood of Christ. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850 it was given no title, 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)

Christian symbolism figures prominently in the picture. The carpenter's triangle on the wall, above Christ's head, symbolises the Holy Trinity. The wood and nails prefigure the crucifixion, as does the blood on the young Christ's hand, which he has cut on a nail, and which drips onto his foot. The young St John is shown fetching a bowl of water with which to bathe the wound. This clearly identifies him as the Baptist, and the image is extended by the white dove perched on the ladder, symbol of the Holy Spirit, which descended from Heaven at the baptism of Christ.

Following the Pre-Raphaelite credo of truth to nature, Millais painted the scene in meticulous detail and based the setting on a real carpenter's shop in Oxford Street. The sheep in the background, intended to represent the Christian flock, were drawn from two sheep's heads obtained from a local butcher. He avoided using professional models, and relied instead on friends and family. Joseph's head was a portrait of Millais's own father, but the body was based on a real carpenter, with his rough hands, sinewy arms and prominent veins. The Virgin Mary was his sister-in-law Mary Hodgkinson, who also appears in Millais's Isabella (1848-9, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool); John the Baptist was posed by a young adopted cousin, Edwin Everett; and Nöel Humphreys, the son of an artist friend, sat for the young Christ.

The public reaction to the picture was one of horror and Millais was viciously attacked by the press. The Times described the painting as 'revolting' and objected to the way in which the artist had dared to depict the Holy Family as ordinary, lowly people in a humble carpenter's shop 'with no conceivable omission of misery, of dirt, of even disease, all finished with the same loathsome minuteness'. Charles Dickens was one of the most vehement critics, describing the young Christ as 'a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown' (Household Words, 15 June 1850).." from the article: Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’)

John Everett Millais
John Everett Millais

"Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, was an English painter and illustrator. He is revered as one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was a child prodigy and at the age of 11, he was the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, that was founded in 1848, was formed at his family home at 83 Gower Street in London. Millais became the most famous exponent of his style. During the mid-1850s, he was even moving away from the Pre-Raphaelite style to make a new and powerful art form of his own.." from the article: John Everett Millais Detailed Biography

John Everett Millais Paintings Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood 101 Art style History Documentary Lessons

Video from william akridge

"So who is John Everett Millais . We are going to take an overview an simple analysis of his life looking at this artist and the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood . We are going to look at his paintings in this short 101 art history documentary tutorial lesson." from video introduction

The Pre-Raphaelites

The Pre-Raphaelites opposed the British Royal Academy, which preferred a narrow range of idealized/moral subjects and more conventional definitions of beauty of the early Italian Renaissance/Classical art. The Pre-Raphaelites took their inspiration from an earlier (pre-Raphaelite - before the artist Raphael) period, which was the centuries preceding the High Renaissance. They believed painters before the Renaissance depicted nature and the human body more realistically, not idealistically.

John Everett Millais: A collection of 207 paintings (HD)

Video from LearnFromMasters

"John Everett Millais: A collection of 207 paintings (HD) Description: Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, (born June 8, 1829, Southampton, Hampshire, Eng.—died Aug. 13, 1896, London) English painter and illustrator, and a founding member of the artistic movement known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1838 Millais went to London and at the age of 11 entered the Royal Academy schools. Extremely precocious, he won all the academy prizes. In 1848 Millais joined with two other artists, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in opposition to contemporary academic painting, which the group believed was the result of the example set by Raphael and which had dominated the schools and academies since his time. At the next year’s academy, the novelist Charles Dickens led a violent attack on Millais’s Christ in the House of His Parents (1850), which many considered blasphemous because of its lack of idealization and seeming irreverence in the use of the mundane. Millais’s period of greatest artistic achievement came in the 1850s. The Return of the Dove to the Ark (1851) was admired by both the English essayist and critic John Ruskin and the French author Théophile Gautier; and The Order of Release (1853), which included a portrait of his future wife Effie Gray (then unhappily married to Ruskin, whose portrait Millais also painted), was praised by Eugène Delacroix in 1855 and earned for its artist his associateship to the Royal Academy in 1853. In 1856 Millais painted one of his greatest public successes, The Blind Girl—a tour de force of Victorian sentiment and technical facility. In 1863 Millais became full academician, and by this time his style had broadened and his content altered toward a more deliberately popular, less didactic approach. He executed illustrations for George Dalziel’s Parables (1864) and E. Moxon’s edition of Tennyson’s poems and contributed to Once a Week, Good Words and other periodicals. Millais’s later work is undoubtedly of poorer overall quality—a deterioration of which he was fully aware. In 1870 appeared the first of his pure landscapes, Chill October. Many of these landscapes are of Perthshire, where Millais shot and fished in the autumn. Many portraits belong to this late period, including those of William Gladstone, of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and of Cardinal Newman. Millais was created a baronet in 1885 and was elected president of the Royal Academy in 1896." from video introduction

The Blind Girl
The Blind Girl

The Blind Girl (1856) Depicts two itinerant beggars, probably sisters, one of whom is a blind musician, her concertina on her lap. They are resting by the roadside after a rainstorm, before travelling to the town of Winchelsea, seen in the background.

For a more complete viewing of Millais's paintings see the video above.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page