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The Shadow of Death

A work made of oil on panel.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on panel.




William Holman Hunt (English, 1827-1910)

About this artwork

This minutely detailed painting depicts the young Jesus stretching after his day’s labor in his father’s carpentry shop. His mother kneels behind him, looking up at his shadow, which seems to prefigure his crucifixion. The painting teems with symbolism. For example, the star-shaped aperture above the window recalls the light that guided a group of priestly wise men, called Magi, to the newborn Jesus, and the red headdress at his feet foreshadows the crown of thorns he will wear at his execution.

William Holman Hunt, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was committed to direct observation of nature. This work is the third and final version of a composition the artist began in 1869 in Jerusalem, where he could study the setting from life.


On View, Gallery 223


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


William Holman Hunt


The Shadow of Death


England (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on panel


104.5 × 82 cm (41 × 32 1/4 in.); Framed: 137.2 × 115.9 × 9.6 cm (54 × 45 5/8 × 3 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Joseph Winterbotham Collection

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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