A lot can be said about William Holman Hunt´s painting The Awakening Conscience from 1853. And most of it has been said. It is a strange mix of religious piety and social liberation, which makes it hard to accept for many of todays viewers.
I like it. I like most things Holman Hunt made in the early years of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. And I like that strong moral sense.
She is a held woman. And sitting on the lap of her "gentleman", they have been singing "Oft In The Stilly Night". It reminds her of home. Of another, a better life than this. Of how things could have been. Her conscience awakes. She hears the knocking on the door of her soul by the one holding the light of the world. All that stuff.
What I really like about it, though, is the trick of the window. At a casual glance, it seems like they are sitting in front of a window. Actually it is a mirror. Which means she is looking out of the window – towards the light.
Not only do we see her. We see what, or at least some of what, she sees. We too see the light. If only as a painting of a reflection of one.