Date of Award

Fall 2021




Master of Art in History

Degree Type



History and Geography

First Advisor

Dr. Bryan Banks

Second Advisor

Dr. Ryan Lynch

Third Advisor

Dr. Claire McCoy


This thesis explores how the press reviewed Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the years 1849 and 1850 with a partial review of 1851. In particular, the focus is on the controversial painting Christ in the House of his Parents by John Everett Millais. This painting became a physical symbol of the many fears that the new modern age brought to Victorian England. Catholic, Irish, and Protestant tensions had been mounting throughout the nineteenth century in England prior to the debut of the painting. Politics and law were beginning to relax restraints on Catholicism in addition to the increased immigration of Irish Catholics. The public appearance of Catholic biblical figures began to threaten Protestantism during a time when biblical representation was also under question in the art world. As the press became more accessible and widely read, media began to influence and be influenced by the public opinion. The sensational printed press reviews of Millais’s painting shed light on the tumultuous relationship that Victorian culture had with progress, religious life, and Catholicism. As society changed, Victorian religious life had to adapt, and this created a tumultuous relationship that has led to a polarized historiography of Victorian religious history.

Victorian England is said to have been either staunchly and rigidly religious or to have been overwhelmed with what historians have labeled the “Crisis of Doubt.” Past scholarship has used outdated theories on secularization, assuming the more modern a society becomes, the less important religion becomes in that society. Intellectual Victorian writings and statistical records have led to the conclusion that the new modern age of technology, science, and nature began a major shift away from religion. On the other hand, popular novels and societal norms tell that the Victorian people were deeply religious, particularly Protestants. Rather than assume one or the other, this thesis explores the incongruities represented in the printed reviews of Millais’s painting of the Holy Family. By analyzing the popular printed press’s reactions to religious themed artwork, it is possible to open a window into the religious discomfort of the age rather than paint a black and white picture of Victorian faith.