HUNT, William Holman
(b. 1827, London, d. 1910, London)

The Scapegoat

Oil on canvas, 86 x 136 cm
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside

The concern for direct observation led Hunt to leave for Palestine in 1854 in search of biblical locations. It was to the south of the Dead Sea, at Kharbet Esdun (then identified as the site of Sodom), that he painted the desolate landscape of his Scapegoat. Hunt depicts the animal as an exile living in this uninhabited place, bearing the sins of the Jewish people (according to the Old Testament another goat was sacrificed, and it is this one, drowned in the sea, whose horns can be seen on the left). The white goat, symbol of purity, a trickle of blood on its horns, prefigures the Messiah wearing the crown of thorns, who, through his Passion, was to redeem the sins of the world. This personal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures surprised people when the work was submitted to the Royal Academy in 1856, but the image nevertheless has a haunting quality about it. This is one of the great inventions of the period.