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What lies beneath: The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea by William Holman Hunt

The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea by William Holman Hunt

Oil on canvas laid down on panel

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

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The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea by William Holman Hunt

The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea by William Holman Hunt

The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea by William Holman Hunt

The birth of Christ is treated differently by the Evangelists. Luke pulls out all the stops and gives us the stable, manger, swaddling clothes, shepherds, the angels. He doesn't mention Wise Men. In Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus is born quickly - in just one sentence, in each case. But all four tell us that Christ "is risen from the dead"; "he is risen"; "the stone rolled away from the empty sepulchre" and in John, the risen Jesus asks Mary Magdalene "Woman, why weepest thou?"

And today is the day we remember that momentous day.

Without Easter Sunday, and Christ's resurrection, Christianity would collapse. The promise of eternal life is what sustains the world's largest religion and its two billion plus believers.

William Holman Hunt in The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea focuses on that pivotal moment before Jesus headed skywards 40 days later.

This well-built, Hozier-haired Christ looks relaxed. He stands at ease, his elegant arms outstretched and though a spear pierced his left side and his hands and feet must hurt like hell, his gentle expression shows no trace of post-traumatic-stress.

The setting is Joseph of Arimathea's garden. A wealthy man, it was he who donated his own new tomb to receive the body of Jesus - a tomb conveniently now empty once again.

The background, its blue skies, russet clouds, the two palm trees to the right, rolling hills and Jerusalem on the low horizon attract, but all eyes are on the large rainbow halo.

Matthew and Mark mention a large linen shroud. Luke and John tell us Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen. Hunt has opted for a beribboned, unravelling garment. But the two Marys aren't noticing. The Mary in dark green is prostrate, the other Mary, in pale pink, kneeling, hands in prayer, looks down compassionately while Christ looks on with a very gentle, kind expression.

One is Mary Magdalene, but is the other Mary Clopas or Mary Salome? Who can say?

Hunt was born in London in 1827 and, though initially rejected, he studied at the Royal Academy where he shared a studio with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Later they, with John Everett Millais and others, inaugurated the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, their mission to paint like the Renaissance artist Raphael. Bold colours, intricate details are the hallmarks of Hunt's landscapes, still lifes and religious paintings.

He married twice, his first wife died in childbirth in Italy and Hunt sculpted her tomb for the English Cemetery in Florence. He then married his first wife's sister, which was illegal in Britain so they married abroad.

Hunt began this painting, aged 20, in 1847 and in the mid 1850s he visited the Holy Land so that his religious work would have greater accuracy.

This painting was abandoned, however; his atheism got in the way, but he completed it, 50 years later, in 1897.

Hunt died in 1910, was buried in St Paul's Cathedral and whether William Holman Hunt is in heaven with the risen Christ? Well, now he knows.

Sunday Indo Living