Monday, May 26, 2008

My Favorite Bible artist #7

Bible PicturesWilliam Brassey Hole. 1846-1917.

I've been wanting to add William Hole R.S.A. to my 'favorite Bible artists' list for some time, as It was his 'artists notes' that accompanied his Bible pictures in the book 'The Life of Jesus of Nazareth' that provided the inspiration for me to set up the 'Bible illustration blog.'

William Hole was the only child of Richard and Anne Hole, born in Salisbury in 1846. His father was a doctor, and the family soon relocated to Edinburgh where William received his education at the Edinburgh Academy. Hole served as an apprentice to a civil engineers in the city before deciding, in his early twenties, that he wanted to see more of the world. While traveling through Italy he befriended some artists in Rome who convinced him that he should pursue a career in art. On returning to Edinburgh he began formal training in both painting and etching at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA).
Hole specialized in the painting of historical and Industrial subjects as well as landscapes, and around 1900 he traveled to the Holy land to begin work on the 80 watercolors that would appear in 'The Life of Jesus of Nazareth.'

Bible PicturesHole's Biblical costumes
There is no doubt, as can be seen from his artists notes, that Hole sought to capture historical accuracy in his Bible pictures, and to this end, with the help of David Whiting (an expert collector of Palestinian village costume), he purchased a collection of traditional Palestinian costumes to use for reference in his paintings. Artist William Holman-Hunt, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, also had a large collection of Palestinian costumes that he used for reference in his Bible pictures. This picture which represents Mary and Martha with Jesus shows the women dressed in traditional 19th century Bethlehem costumes. A feature of traditional women's Palestinian clothing are the ornate panels of intricate embroidery which were attached to the front of the dress. As these panels involved a lot of work they were detachable, and could be moved from dress to dress as the girl grew.

Hole's Biblical architecture
All Hole's paintings were done 'on the spot' and although his desire was to capture authenticity in his pictures, he still relied heavily on the existing buildings around him for reference which resulted in the painting of many Byzantine architectural features that were not found in Biblical times. You will notice for instance in the painting (top right) the wooden window box feature. These appear a lot in Hole's Bible paintings Dr Leen Ritmeyer informs me that these wooden window boxes "date from the medieval period. They were never used in Biblical times. Same with the dome which appears in the top picture".
I've already mentioned in an earlier post about Hole's use of Byzantine embellishments, similar to those found on the 'Dome on the Rock' on his depiction of Herod's Temple. Having said this though, very few Bible artists put in as much study and detail into their buildings as Hole did.

Bible PicturesHole's depiction of Jesus
Hole's depiction of Jesus is like no other! In fact, if you were unfamiliar with Hole's Bible paintings, you would be hard pressed to actually pick out Jesus in a crowd! The reason for this is that Hole paints Jesus wearing a 'keffiyeh' the traditional Arab headdress for men. Hole's figure work, although not as strong as Harold Copping's, is still very helpful for reference.

Hole's Legacy
Anyone who has visited the Holy Land, on seeing Hole's paintings, always comment that he has managed to capture the very atmosphere of the land. Both his use of light, and the colors used in his landscapes make Hole's Bible pictures truly memorable. It was no doubt his method of painting 'on the spot' that helped him to capture these essential ingredients in his pictures.
Hole's book 'The Life of Jesus of Nazareth' comes up regularly on Ebay and includes very helpful 'Introductory notes' by Dr George Adam Smith, Professor of Old Testament Theology, a very lengthy 'Preface' by William Sinclair, Archdeacon on London, and of course the artists own notes on each picture.
If you are interested in the pictures alone, there's a publisher here that has plans to reprint all eighty of Hole's Bible pictures.

Related posts:
Favorite Bible Artist #1 Frank Hampson
Favorite Bible Artist #2 Nestor Redondo
Favorite Bible Artist #3 Clive Uptton
Favorite Bible Artist #4 Cicely Mary Barker
Favorite Bible Artist #5 Harold Copping
Favorite Bible Artist #6 Carl Heinrich Bloch


Paul Green said...

Thanks for posting this Graham. I'm a little puzzled as to why Hole would portray Jesus wearing an Arab 'keffiyeh'. Surely this is historically inaccurate and actually an insult to Jews.

Bible artist said...

Around 1900, which was the time when Hole visited Palestine, it was under the Islamic rule of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire. The Jewish people were ill treated under this regime and very much the under dog. If they could find work at all, they were employed in very menial jobs.
A British tourist like Hole however would have had a very different experience!

I think that Hole was very taken with the whole colorful culture of the Ottomans, and he probably only had contact with the more well off arabs who probably owned the hotel where he stayed! It's not surprising then that he chose the more prominent Arab dress for Jesus just as he chose the more prominent Palestinian clothing for Martha & Mary.

Paul Green said...

Thanks for the explanation Graham. I guess Hole chose political expediency in bowing to his Arab patrons.

Bible artist said...

That's my guess!

The Bearded Belgian said...

Thank you for this,

beautiful pictures! That grapevine (or how do you call that, the second work) is a very beautiful location, the play on perspective is very cool, it leads us right in on the characters.

Paul Green said...

Hole's draughtmanship is obviously of a very high quality. That said, I don't feel any emotional response to his art. Everyone reacts differently of course.

josiah said...

Graham, I happened onto your site as I was searching for a way to create Bible illustrations for my little people's Bible class. One of my sons and I (yes, I have bullied him into helping me, since he is very good with a computer--a talent which I do not posses,--smile)are attempting to put some simple things together. Since we are new to all of this, and you are of course an expert, can you help steer us in the right direction, for something simple and not terribly expensive? I would really like to keep things accurate,and it is difficult to find simple and accurate. The comments about the head dress are interesting. There is also a Jewish law concerning the 'length' of the hair, and whether a Jewish man would wear a head covering is there not? Deboraw

Bible artist said...

Hi Deboraw
Yes, I am putting together a post on 'Biblical head coverings' so I hope to cover the points you mention.

Now, how artistic are you both? There are several ways to do this depending on how you want to show the finished pictures, e.g. Digital projector, overhead projector, on a laptop for a small group, posters on a flip chart pad, etc.
When I started off with my own Sunday school class I used drawings on a flip chart pad loosely colored with wax crayons!
If your son is handy with a computer then you could draw some simple black line images, scan them onto the computer and he could color them digitally using something like Photoshop. You could then either print them out on paper or show them on screen.
Some people still like to use an overhead projector with acetates. In you do this it's always best if you are adding color with markers to color the acetates on the back, not on the same side as the black line work. Otherwise it can get messy!

Have you checked the list of 'Bible Picture resource sites'? Some of those pictures are free. If you get around to doing some Bible story pictures you can send me some samples and I'll be able to advise you a bit more. It's hard to advise at this point because I'm not sure what software you have access to, or how you want to go about producing the pictures.

josiah said...

Graham, Thank you for your response. My son was so excited this morning--that he had gotten a response--he almost couldn't wait until Bible class was finished to show me. The problem I seem to run up against is this, there are quite a few things on the 'highlight' lessons. Those are the lessons that are taught a lot examples: Creation, Adam & Eve, Noah...but the further a teacher gets into the scriptures the harder it is to find material. And even on the main lessons the work isn't always ? right. I have one picture of Rebecca where she looks somewhat like 'a woman of questionable morality', and she is giving Eliezer and his ten camels, their 'drink' with a glass (like you and I might find in our cupboard) of water. Hmm. The other picture I could find she was wearing modern (I don't think it was capri pants and a tank top, but similar) clothing.
You ask about artistic ability. Well, I have done some amazing things, and yes, some of it has been artistic. A lot has been trial and error since I've not 'trained' to be an 'artist', although my job description is 'primitive artist'. Another 'want' is to be able to have the ability to produce (not necessarily en masse, but at will?) so that I can file, and just pull for future lessons. I'm thinking perhaps a larger colored picture for the teacher, and smaller uncolored 'hand out' sheets for the little people to color/or make into booklets, etc. But I need some kind of models to draw from, something to base the picture on, and there in is the 'rub', as dear Hamlet expressed. We've looked but...? Don't know where to go further, and I'm not sure about costumes/ customs, and etc. Your ideas are interesting however, and I'm going to ponder and pray about it. Thank you for taking your time to answer. Sorry I've 'gabbed' so long. (Very embarrassed face). Deboraw

josiah said...

Graham, thanks don't like stuttering, especially that long. Deboraw

Bible artist said...

Don't worry Deboraw. You'd be amazed how many people publish their comments twice!

I think the best way forward for you would be to collect as many good children's Bibles as you can for reference. I've found that the ones dating between 1900- 1960's are the better illustrated ones. (Ebay is a good source for these).
You could use these for figure, costume and building reference. Then draw your pictures in black line work and keep them for photocopying as coloring pictures for the children. Scan these same pictures into the computer and add color to them digitally.
You then have two options of displaying them: You could drop them into a powerpoint show for displaying on a laptop (for a smaller group), or via a digital projector for a larger group. You could also print them out on a good color printer, but be careful that they don't use up too much ink!

When I used a flipchart easel and pad to tell stories to children I would leave the odd sheet blank so that I could draw a picture in the middle of the story. This always kept the children quiet!

Feel free to use our free coloring pictures on the' Sermons4kids' site. (See 'Free stuff' link).

Paul Green said...

Why do you consider the 1900-1960s to be the heyday of children's Bible illustration Graham? Do you see draughtmanship and historical accuracy declining in the last 35 years? Just curious...

Bible artist said...

Good question. It's just that out of all the children's Bibles that I've been collecting over the years, the ones that I would consider to be very well illustrated are from that period. (I do have one Bible that was printed in 1986 that is very good though!)Draftsmanship is the main thing that I would look for, followed by historical accuracy.

As I have probably one of the largest collections of children's Bibles from all eras, this would suggest that there has been a decline, but it could also be that there are more children's Bible publishers nowadays fighting for fewer sales which means that they might be reluctant to invest in new 'top notch' artwork.

Some publishers are printing Bibles that reuse the artwork of artists like Clive Uptton and William Hole. This is a good move and will cater for those who are looking for Bibles with good artwork.

I'm not quite sure what sparked off the trend in recent years of only producing cartoon Bibles. There are very few new children's Bibles that contain realistic Bible illustration, and the few that do display poor draftsmanship and cannot be compared to the Bible artists of the past.

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Unknown said...


I am hoping to use Willian Holes painting of the Anuciation of Mary for a Christian CD. Although he painted relgiours scenes can you tell me if William was in fact a committed Christian himself

Thank you

Ken Shearsmith

Bible artist said...

Good question Ken - this is a tricky one. There are not too many clues among his artist's notes that give anything away. He talks mainly about the things that one might find in a Bible encyclopedia. Many artists, both christian and non christian have gone to the trouble of visiting the Holy Land to gather references so the fact that Hole went doesn't really help either!
Sorry! If anyone else knows the answer to this please post a comment.

Anonymous said...

There is a stained glass window by Wm Hole in the Chapel of St Colm's College in Edinburgh which was recently sold by the Church of Scotland.
I think it may have been his only work in Stained Glass.

Bible artist said...

Many thanks for that information anonymous. I would like to see those windows. That makes Hole the second Bible artist that I know of who has designed stained glass windows for a church - the other being Annie Vallotton.

Julie said...

I first discovered William Hole while searching for copyright free illustrations to use with PowerPoints I'm developing to correspond to "Stranger on the Road to Emmaus". I teach a Deaf Bible study; Deaf are very visual and accurate illustrations make the stories and events come alive for them.

Do you have any other ideas or artists or sites that would have more copyright free illustrations that I could use? I'm trying to find ones that can be downloaded or copied right off the internet. I'm citing where I find them, but don't want to infringe on any possible copyright issues.

I've just found your site. Thanks for this wonderful blog!

Bible artist said...

We have a set of pictures that correspond to the 'Stranger' Bible study course. They can be found at:
Sorry, they're not free though-!!

If they were free I'd be out of a job!

CJ said...

I am doing some research pertaining to Biblical art and am curious if you consider the biblical paintings by William Hole to be in the public domain (life of author plus 50 years)?