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"Shame Awakened": Symbols of Sin and Repentance in the Painting
"Shame Awakened": Symbols of Sin and Repentance in the Painting

What is the first thing that catches the eye of the viewer who sees the picture for the first time? This is how a girl with illuminated eyes gets up from a man's lap. But the most important thing here is eyes full of hope and, indeed, insight. What is hidden in these eyes and other symbols in the picture?

Author biography

William Holman Hunt (1827 - 1910) - British artist and prominent member of the Pre-Raphaelite fraternity. His style is characterized by clear and vibrant color palette, bright lighting and meticulous detailing. He was a deeply religious man, so is his art - moralistic and edifying. In fact, shortly after Shame Awakened was completed, Hunt embarked on a journey to the Holy Land, convinced that in order to paint religious objects, he must find a source of inspiration. Although the trip to Jerusalem at that time was dangerous and expensive, it did not stop the artist in his creative impulse.

William Hunt


Hunt's work Awakened Shame reflects the ideal of Christian philanthropy. While others emphasized the consequences of their actions as a way to discourage inappropriate behavior, Hunt argued that the truly repentant can change their lives. Shame Awakened fulfilled this artist's goal of exploring the theme of redemption. Each viewer can interpret the plot in his own way. But the most likely is the following: a young girl is sitting on the lap of her favorite (she is clearly not a wife, because she does not have a wedding ring). Together they played the piano symbolic meaning of the notes "How often in the silence of the night." The viewer sees the peak moment when the man's hands are still over the keys of the instrument at the moment of the heroine's illumination. The text of the song tells about a lost past, beautiful times that have gone into eternity - and he pricked the conscience of a young woman, like an inner judge who witnessed a crime.

Heroes of the picture

The heroine of the picture suddenly gets up from the man's knees, her face conveys a sudden understanding and awareness of what is happening. She looks out into the sunlit garden, which is reflected in the mirror behind her. Looking at these elements, the picture begins to clear up: it is likely that this is a fallen woman who only now realized all the viciousness and sinfulness of her actions. Big eyes looking out the window are hope. The astonished, but clear face of the girl points to a spiritual revelation: she suddenly saw everything that surrounds her: both sin, wasted time, and an erroneous path leading only to hell. But there is hope: the girl is still young, which means that awareness is the first step towards correcting mistakes on the path to a fertile life. By the way, the model in the picture is the artist's friend Annie Miller, an uneducated barmaid, whom he met in 1850, when she was fifteen years old. The absolute contrast with her is the man with his facial expression. He is not surprised, on the contrary, he is cheerful and contented. His hat and glove are thrown on the table and on the floor (this is proof that he is a visitor and not a resident in this house).


The background of the painting is carefully crafted, which is necessary in order to present the full story on the canvas. For this, the artist even rented a room in the vicinity of St. John's Forest. This is an expensive interior, picturesque and rich in textures, colors, objects.Fashionable English furniture in the art nouveau style, picturesque wallpaper in flowers, patterned mirror (the most important symbol to be analyzed), red carpet with blue and white elements. The piano, which played a fateful role, and the clock on it with a deep allegorical meaning. The frame of the work was designed by Hunt himself and with its dome shape reminds of religiosity.


Almost all the elements in the interior of the picture have a certain allegorical meaning. On the piano you can see the work of Thomas Moore "How often in the silence of the night" - a nostalgic song in which the author reflects on the innocence and lost beautiful times that have gone into eternity. It was this music that awakened conscience and redemption in the heroine. On the floor lie the notes "Tears, Empty Tears" - Edward Lear's musical adaptation to Tennyson's poem, which is a sad poem (an association to the position of the heroine herself). By themselves, musical notes are an attribute of the brevity and ephemeral nature of life. A watch with a closed lid symbolizes wasted time, the mirror image represents the woman's lost innocence, and the beam in the lower right corner represents enlightenment and the light of hope. A cat playing with a bird with broken wings under the table symbolizes the plight of a woman and corresponds to the roles of the heroes: a man (cat) hunts a bird trying to get out of his claws (a repentant heroine) A glove thrown to the floor is a symbol of the role of a mistress, abandoned alone the fate of a woman. The tangled skein of yarn on the floor symbolizes the cobweb in which the girl fell, her lost tangled life. The Hunt frame also contains various symbolic emblems: bells and marigold flowers mean warning and grief, a star is a sign of spiritual revelation. "Awakened shame" is more of a religious - edifying and socially significant picture. It demonstrates two main thoughts: firstly, the author shows how one should not act in life and what it can lead to. And secondly, if a person has made a bitter mistake, he can receive the very ray of redemption if he sincerely repent.

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