I visited St.Paul’s Cathedral in London with the sole purpose of going to see this painting. There is much light depicted in the print but in reality, it’s pretty dark. I spent a good 15 minutes contemplating the painting and spent a good while looking carefully for the detail. It was time well spent. This is one print that has pride of place amongst other religious icons and memorabilia displayed in our little shrine at home.
I love that fact that Christ needs to be invited in, as there is no doorknob on the outside of the door. We have a choice to invite Jesus into our hearts.
Here is some interesting background information:
The artist William Holman Hunt explained that the figure of Christ was “to be seen only by the light of the star of distant dawn behind, and of some moonlight in front with most of all the light “to guide us in dark places” coming from the lantern.
This mixture of lights is all natural on the understanding that it is treated typically” (20 June 1878; London (Huntington MS.). In the world of religious vision which Hunt created in The Light of the World all things necessarily bear higher meanings, so that the symbolical and the natural combine: both together make up the real. although one cannot be certain about the precise significance of all elements of the picture’s lighting, it is clear that Christ’s lantern — whether it be the light of truth or of Christian doctrine — provides most of the illumination. The promise of a new day, a new life once the soul awakens to Christ, and the natural light of the moon can shed some, too, but Christ himself must be the chief means by which one can see him.
In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Hunt explained the other points of symbolism in The Light of the World :
The closed door was the obstinately shut mind, the weeds the cumber of daily neglect, the accumulated hindrances of sloth; the orchard the garden of delectable fruit for the dainty feast of the soul. The music of the still small voice was the summons to the sluggard to awaken and become a zealous labourer under the Divine Master; the bat flitting about only in darkness was a natural symbol of ignorance; the kingly and priestly dress of Christ, the sign of His reign over the body and the soul, to them who could give their allegiance to Him and acknowledge God’s overrule. In making it a night scene, lit mainly by the lantern carried by Christ, I had followed metaphorical explanation in the Psalms, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,’ with also the accordant allusions by St. Paul to the sleeping soul, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (I.350-51) (http://www.victorianweb.org)