A Work of Art is a “Thing”

Despite the contemporary world’s saturation with imagery, we should recognise a work of art as a thing, an object and not merely an image.

It is important to remember that The Finding made by a person, developed, planned with Holman Hunt’s unique human experience and concerns. Bringing this into our consciousness allows us to slow down the looking and evaluating process and consider what these details mean for us, to me, in the present. Although due consideration has been given already to the meaningfulness of The Finding in its own time, this does not nullify the option to consider what it says to us today.

As an object, The Finding is itself unique, notwithstanding Holman Hunt’s production of two copies, the many official and unofficial reproductions made and the ease of further reproducing such copies. It has material qualities, for example, Holman Hunt’s own patterns of paint application, the carefully designed inlet with its text, the specially carved frame. Taking each step, mark or brushstroke in the making of The Finding into consideration, it would surely be impossible to replicate. Even Holman Hunt’s second painted version possesses many differences from the original.


The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt, 1860. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt, 1860. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. (Detail)

The particular qualities of The Finding as an object are of great interest and relevance. The aforementioned frame is a significant aspect of the work, and it is fair to acknowledge that there have been a number of interesting treatments of these details. One example worth noting here is Lynn Roberts’s paper on Nineteenth Century English Picture Frames which offers a very useful discussion of Holman Hunt’s picture frames and on The Finding’s frame in particular. Clearly Holman Hunt intended the frame to form a significant aspect of the work. The work effectively spills outward into the frame, exacerbating the sense of The Finding as a three-dimensional object – as something the viewer can experience in person but not so easily in reproduction.


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