Strange, the things you discover when you're not looking for them. A year or two ago I went to see Holman Hunt's The Light of the World in Manchester Art Gallery. It isn't one on my favourite pictures, and I can understand why it was panned by the reviews and notices on its first appearance. It took a John Ruskin to commend and praise it, and Simmons and Ridgway to engrave it, print it and market it, before it became one of the most popular of all Victorian religious paintings. I suspect my own muted enthusiasm is because it has become a shallow cliche, represents an exegetical misdirection of Revelation 3.20, and tries too hard - using the word the way Jamie Oliver and other TV chefs do, Hunt "literally" tries to portray a metaphor too literally!
That said, Hunt was a remarkable artist for reasons other than his painting. Pursuing the same literalism, he spent a lot of time in the Holy Land observing and painting people, dress and customs, works in which he tried to capture what he saw, literally. Sometimes he was in hostile territory and painted with a shotgun in one hand and a brush in the other! Now here's an interesting observation by Helen De Borchgrave, A Joiurney into Christian Art: "Holman Hunt thought that by painting literally what he read in the Bible, he would be transmitting the message faithfully in paint. But truth is not literal; we see through a glass darkly. If you forget fancy, you fence in freedom and everything frays. Even Jesus, who is truth, was not wholly understood by his closest friends."
Now there's a thought for biblical literalists; and also for those interested in exegesis through artistic representation. It may be that by striving for realism, we miss the Real; that by dictating to truth how truth should represent itself, we falsify that which we most seek to verify; that by devaluing imagination and overvaluing factual observation, we miss the Spirit who leads into all truth, who takes of the things of Jesus and reveals them to the heart, and to the mind, and yes, to the imagination. Interesting that Hunt's imagination became servant to a mind grown secure in realism - Hunt's earlier work was wonderfully imaginative, conceiving fantastic images and beautiful depictions such as his Lady of Shallot. Little of that vibrancy is visible in much of his biblical work. If ever a man was captured by his one popular painting, and that still not judged to be his best, it was Hunt, who painted three versions of the Light of the World. There's probably a Phd written, or waiting to be written on what it was in that painting that touched the late 19th Century so powerfully.