The Awakening Conscience

William Holman Hunt, 1853
The Awakening Conscience, William Holman Hunt
The Awakening Conscience, zoomed in
76.2 cmThe Awakening Conscience scale comparison55.9 cm

The Awakening Conscience is a Pre Raphaelite Oil on Canvas Painting created by William Holman Hunt in 1853. It lives at the Tate Britain in London. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Allegory. DownloadSee The Awakening Conscience in the Kaleidoscope

Inspired by a verse in Proverbs: 'As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart'—this work drips with symbols meant to be ‘read’ to tell a story. In typical didactic fashion, William Holman Hunt builds a scene around a kept woman, a mistress, who is interrupted in mid-tryst by a spiritual revelation. She rises and looks toward the window, a mirror behind her represents both lost innocence and possible redemption. A cat toying with a bird, and a tangled skein of yarn represent entrapped life the woman’s sinful decisions have led her to. The man’s discarded glove foretells her fate should she continue.

Hunt’s girlfriend, the 15 year old Annie Miller, was the model for this painting. Annie modeled for many Pre Raphaelite paintings, was rumored to have an affair with Dante Rossetti, and later became involved with the infamous rake and long-title-haver, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Jones 7th Viscount Ranelagh of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Reed Enger, "The Awakening Conscience," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 24, 2015; last modified October 22, 2022,

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