An Engagement with Renaissance Influences – Drama and Theatre
As I have already alluded, The Finding in its frame has the appearance of a theatrical stage set. The scene appears to be a frozen sequence of moments in time, as if caught on camera. The theatrical effect is conveyed through a number of elements. Firstly, the sheer number of figures with which the painting has the viewer contend warrants attention. To the left-hand side are the rabbis, musicians and attendants. The priests and their attendants sit a semicircle that partly encloses the trio on the right-hand side. Although we understand them to be seated in a semi-circle, the actual effect is somewhat more compressed. In terms of an ideological and physical contrasting of the two groups, (the rabbis and the holy family) Holman Hunt’s creation of opposition and a confrontational structure contributes to the sense of drama.
Given the gaze afforded to the notional viewer by the young Jesus it seems pertinent to ask about the role the viewer plays in the organisation of The Finding. It is as if we are seated in a theatre awaiting the drama to proceed, or rather continue. Indeed, it occurs to me that Manet and the Impressionists created paintings that suggest to viewers that the artist has come upon a scene by chance and painted it. Holman Hunt however, wishes his viewers to believe that they, the viewers, have come across this scene which he has realised and created for them.
Notwithstanding the seated rabbis, there is a suggestion of movement and more to come. On the floor, in the shade, is an abaya strewn and flattened. It is where Jesus has been seated until this moment. The Lukan text describes Jesus as “sitting in the Temple” and here, we can understand that he was. Until this moment.
The idea of “this moment” makes the scene one of tense, high drama. The action is conveyed by the writing on the inlays which, like a theatrical script, informs (or reminds) the viewer what the story is about. This befits the idea of a theatre set with the audience observing, watching the action. However, the notional audience or viewer, is positioned somewhere within the schema. And here one of a number of ambiguities can be discerned. Are we, the viewers, situated inside or outside the Temple? This is one of a number of strange elements that, notwithstanding the tight organisation and detail, that the picture slowly reveals.