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Visualising Britain’s Holy Land

posted on 21.02.2017, 00:43 authored by Burritt, Amanda Maree
This thesis explores nineteenth-century British Christian perceptions of the Holy Land through visual culture. The Holy Land was simultaneously viewed as a region of physical and spiritual geography, quintessentially ‘other’, yet historical home of Christianity, the inheritance of Britain and place of eschatological promise, a place of ethnographic interest and of commercial and political importance. My research analyses visual and textual sources by British artists David Roberts, Sir David Wilkie and William Holman Hunt. I demonstrate their engagement with contemporaneous questions around Christology, the significance of the Holy Land for Britain and the Protestant emphasis on the primacy of reason and experience. Further, this thesis shows that the work of Roberts, Wilkie and Hunt provoked critical and popular response. As a rhetorical medium, their artworks reflected significant theological shifts in nineteenth-century Protestant Britain. More than just mirroring these changes, however, my research shows that their work was also an impetus for further shifts in religious and visual culture and perceptions of sacred geography. Questions around the veracity of biblical narratives were dominant in religious thinking in the nineteenth century. Both the scientific discipline of Near Eastern archaeology and the development of textual criticism, as discussed in this thesis, contributed to the discourse around hermeneutics. Through their artworks Roberts, Wilkie and Hunt sought to enable British Christians to have a vicarious experience of the places in which Jesus and the prophets lived. My exploration demonstrates that, for Roberts, Wilkie and Hunt, as for other Bible focussed Protestants in nineteenth-century Britain, personal experience was a fundamental element of faith and their visualisation of the Bible was inextricably linked to the Holy Land. Through close analysis of primary source material this thesis shows that a nuanced interpretation of the motivation, religious perspectives, attitudes, behaviour and visual and textual expression of Roberts, Wilkie and Hunt is necessary to understand their differing engagements with the Holy Land and their personal identities as men of faith and as British citizens of Empire. For Roberts physical place was paramount, for Wilkie a sense of historical context was crucial and for Hunt typological symbolism was necessary to express a complex Christology. This thesis contributes to the broader discussion of nineteenth-century British visual culture through an explicit analysis of these different, but related, perspectives on engagement with the Holy Land.


Principal supervisor

Peter Howard

Additional supervisor 1

Susie Protschky

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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