Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

ONE one of the most famous images in British art, and certainly among Pre-Raphaelite works is The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) – a sensation when it was painted and reprinted in millions of children’s Bibles round the world.

The major focus of the atmospheric picture is the lantern held by Christ, and it was the original model of the lantern, shown right, rather than a painting which was the focus at the November 1 sale held by Bonhams (15% buyer’s premium) Knightsbridge.

Hunt had begun painting The Light of the World at Worcester Park in Cheam in the autumn of 1851. He returned to London in December of that year and is then believed to have designed the lantern. The 13in (33cm) high heptagonal-shaped lantern was made by the London ironmonger William Hacking and given by Hunt to his patron Thomas Combe along with the painting itself upon its completion.

Following Combe’s death, the lantern was sold at J.R. Mallam and Son of Oxford where it was bought for 10 guineas by John Crossley of East Sussex and has remained in the same family ever since. The painting itself still hangs in Keble College, Oxford.

The last time the lantern, which was expected to take £20,000-30,000, had been seen in London was at the 1984 exhibition Holman Hunt and the Light of the World at the Maas Gallery, so when it appeared at Bonhams it was heralded as a “major rediscovery”.

Three UK institutions and a private British collector entered the bidding, with the Fine Art Society bidding on behalf of the Manchester City Art Gallery dropping out at £44,000, leaving the way clear for the collector to yield the successful bid of £46,000.