William Holman Hunt’s 1884 painting of Amaryllis, who was the famed and mythic shepherdess of the ancient Roman poet Virgil’s Eclogues. Here, Hunt in the naturalistic style of Pre-Raphaelitism transplants the shepherdess to the contemporary English countryside.
The clothing is contemporary but Hunt also, as well as his meticulous study of detail, draws on a deep nostalgia for a pastoral past that was rapidly receding with the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
The 1884 painting can be read as an ode to the disappearing idyll of a pastoral life amid the expansion of the Industrial Revolution. The shepherdess’ gaiety of dress and her music is in contrast to a wistful, perhaps fearful, expression as if her eyes see the onset of the modern technological age. By extension, there is an anxiety about the prospective place of art and the artist in a changing world.