The Parents of Christ seeking Him

The Parents of Christ seeking Him by Edward Armitage. Oil on canvas. Source: Illustrated London News. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Article on the page following the full-page illustration

No contributor to the present exhibition of the Royal Academy has manifested a wider range of power than Mr. Armitage in his "Remorse of Judas" (reviewed in another column) and in the picture we engrave. The one deals with the blackest crime ever committed and its swift retribution, with stem energy of condemnation, with lurid portentonsness, and suggestions of terrible omen. The other represents a gracefully-imagined episode of the holiest love, with refined reverence, and in the purest, brightest colours. The subject of the picture engraved is one of those incidents of possible and probable occurrence, though unrecorded, which demand the faculty of invention as well as reproduction. Now the “Finding of the Saviour in the Temple” is a theme which has been often treated: an instance is afforded in this very exhibition. But here is a perfectly original conception of perhaps more human and pathetic interest. The painter follows Joseph and Mary in imagination on the weary, anxious three days search for their missing ton Jesus, after leaving the "company" or caravanserai. They have reached the suburbs of Jerusalem, for the towers of the city are seen in the distance. Naturally they direct their steps to a fountain, as one of the places, in a hot climate, where persons of various ages chiefly collect. Joseph has hurried on towards it, and, having satisfied himself that Jesus is not there, advances a few paces to the angle of the wall, against which he leans resting for a moment, and whence he gains a view of the road towards the city and in it a group of children not far off, upon whom his attention is fixed. Very properly, however, Mary, leaning weary and weak on the basin of the fountain, is made the principal figure. The yearnings of a mother's love must find expression in questionings of all those about the fountain — peradveuture they can give some tidings of that mysterious Divine Child, now lost to her, whose every word and act she has kept and pondered over in her heart. Very touching is the tender solicitude, the anxious expression, the attitude of way-worn faintness of that Mother of Sorrows. In truth, it seems to us that in imagining this idyllic episode and commentary on the sacred narrative, Mr. Armitage has given the best of the very few really original and beautiful thoughts to be found in this exhibition. Nor is the execution of the picture unworthy of the conception. The effect on the figures and the wall, with the chequer beneath the plane-tree, appears to be very true to the brilliancy of Oriental sunlight. The colouring also is particularly bright and agreeable; and, if the traditionary azure robe of Mary is a little crude, the intention of specially distinguishing her by the symbolic colour of purity is entirely right. It is with extreme surprise that we see this picture in the north room, and above the line. In an exhibition universally observed to be more than ordinarily deficient in paintings of high aim, we might reasonably expect to find such a work placed in a prominent and honourable position. Is it thus that the Academy discharges its duty to outside contributors; thus that it seeks to raise the character of its exhibition; thus that it strives to elevate the public taste? Our surprise increases when we see the kind of pictures thought worthy a better place in the same room, and when we remember that two of the hangers this year — Messrs. Cope and Horsley — are monumental painters (having actually worked with Mr. Armitage in the same chamber of the Westminster Palace), and might therefore be credited with a right perception of what is noble and refined in art. Is it because Mr. Armitage has been identified with a protest against the Academic system that resentment is to take this form?

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“The Parents of Christ seeking Him.” The Illustrated London News 48 (12 May 1866): 457-58. Hathi Digital Library Trust version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 6 January 2016.

Created 6 January 2016