‘Elijah and the Widow’s son’ by Ford Madox Brown


‘Elijah and the Widow’s son’ by Ford Madox Brown

Accession number: 1920P713.1.60

Date: 1863 – 1881

In this scene, Ford Madox Brown depicts the biblical account of Elijah in which the young son of a woman dies of illness and Elijah calls on God to bring the boy back to life: ‘O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again‘(1 Kings 17:21). He dramatizes as a wood engraving the moment where ’Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother’ (1 Kings 17:23). Brown emphasizes the mother’s relief and thankfulness by depicting her on her knees with her hands raised, in contrast to Elijah’s calm expression as he carries the child. Focusing on the moment in which the boy is shown alive once more, Brown emphasizes the power of God and the idea of resurrection. Brown’s depiction of the boy in his grave clothes highlights the immediacy of the moment, perhaps anticipating Christ’s death and resurrection and the presence of the grave clothes in the empty tomb.

The writing which can be seen on the wall was described by Brown as Hebrew ‘verses of Deut.  vi.  4-9, which the Jews were ordered so to use (possibly suggested to Moses by the Egyptian custom)’.[1] The verses begin with ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Whilst the use of these words enables Brown to impart a sense of authenticity to the scene, the inscription is also relevant since Elijah’s faith in God arguably enables him to assist the widow and her dead son. A watercolour version of this engraving known as Elijah restoring the widow’s son is housed by the Victoria and Albert Museum and is described as ‘an excellent example of the degree of historical authenticity at which the Pre-Raphaelites aimed’.[2]

Rebecca Lovell

[1] http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/fmb/paintings/19.html

[2] http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O15039/elijah-restoring-the-widows-son-watercolour-brown-ford-madox/