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Rebellion in the blood of John Everett Millais

Updated: May 25, 2020

A visit to Tate Britain and review of Everett's Christ in the House of his Parents.


CHRIST IN THE HOUSE OF HIS PARENTS

By John Everett Millais

Oil on Canvass Dimension: 86.4 x 139.7cm


“His loyalty to an art movement of which he was one of the founding member, the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood’s credo of “true to nature”, must have caused him to paint in great detail ”

The Tate Britain have some of the finest art collections ever, from the Victorian up to the modern and contemporary artist. This magnificent building, housing the gallery, stands on the site of a prsion which was once used as a centre for the transfer of prisoners to Australia. The beauty of this magnificent Victorian architectural structure, reminds us of its great historical importance and exquisite craftmanship of the builders. As a first time visitor to the gallery, things were put in place to give easy access and to make sure you enjoy every bit of your time. There are signage at every corner, the Tate gallery map was useful, in showing your location within the gallery and where to find what. The halls are chronologically mapped to give easy access and directions as you navigate the various era in the British art.


From the Milbank entrance, I walked straight to the main floor, down to the Sackler octagon, and turned towards the entrance on my left. On the right of the entrance, is one of the most controversial paintings of the Victorian era by John Everett Millais. Christ in the House of his Parents . Although this painting was heavily criticised in its time, I quickly realized why it drew so much condemnation. In this particular painting, Millais presented Christ and his parent in a remarkably realistic style, with strong emphasis on details, very well lit and including a lot of symbols. This method of painting was associated with the Pre Raphaelites Brotherhood of which he was a member.


Millais portrayed Christ not in an idealised environment as suggested by early renaissance paintings but in a more natural environment of a mid-19th century carpenter’s workshop. The composition and the setting were carefully planned and well executed. In this painting, you will notice a triangle composition of the figures, with Christ and the mother who are the principle figures in the middle. I believe that this was intended to draw the viewers to focus on the main characters in the painting without missing out on the objects in the background that are symbolic to Christian faith.

Although Millais intention might not have been to upset the popular norms and beliefs of his time, but he surely did. His loyalty to an art movement of which he was one of the founding member, the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood’s credo of “true to nature”, must have caused him to paint in great detail, using a composition of a real carpenter workshop in a location believed to be somewhere in Oxford street. Millais did not use professional models but relied on friends and family members. This painting caused an uproar when it was exhibited. The press and the public were offended by the radical departure from portraying the holy family in a more graceful manner, to depicting the holy family as a lowly ordinary people in a carpenters shop. Amongst the fiercest critics was Charles Dickens who was a popular writer at the time.


This painting might have been criticized, but it symbolises so many things to different people. In the background of this painting, you will find objects that are of symbolic importance to the Christian faith. The Dove on the ladder reminds us of the Dove that came upon Christ after the baptism by John the Baptist. The ladder symbolises the ladder that was used to bring down the body of Christ after The Crucifixion and death of Christ. Just behind the ladder, hanging on the wall is a triangle, which represents the Trinity, The nail with the blood stained wood, symbolises the nailing of Christ on the cross and the wound in his hand. Then on the right side of the painting, you see John the Baptist carrying a bowl of water, to clean up the wound. Obviously, you can see he was not that cheerful, looking at all the attention the young Christ is receiving, although this is typical of a child of that age but it also marked a clear departure from the bible story which portrayed him as being submissive, willing and eager to serve Christ’s need by baptising him. It was said in the Bible, “he must increase and I must decrease”.


The display of the painting is like watching a staged drama in a theatre, the framing of the painting serves as the stage, bringing the actors together under a platform. This frame, is a large wooden frame. Although looking at it from a distance, it looked like a cast iron frame but it is a wooden frame painted with gold colour. Looking at it closely, you noticed detailed decoration with inscriptions on the frame. The frame really looked big on the painting but at the same time, considering the size of the work and the place it was hung, it really looked great. This frame compares to the front beam (column) of most Victorian buildings, including the Tate Britain from the Milbank entrance. The frame was able to deflect the reflection of light, making it possible to see and enjoy the rich oil painting on canvass, with bright colours radiating the beauty of this master piece by John Everett Millais

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