Inspired by a verse in Proverbs: ‘As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart’ - this work drips with symbols meant to be ‘read’ to tell a story. In typical didtactic fashion, William Holman Hunt builds a scene around a kept woman, a mistress, who is interrupted in mid-tryst by a spiritual revelation. She rises and looks toward the window — a mirror behind her representing both lost innocence and possible redemption. A cat toying with a bird, and a tangled skein of yarn represent entrapped life the woman’s sinful decisions have led her to. The man’s discarded glove foretells her fate should she continue.
Interestingly, Hunt’s own girlfriend - the 15 year old Annie Miller, was the model for this painting. Annie would continue to model for many Pre Raphaelite paintings, and was rumored to have an affair with Dante Rossetti, and would finally become involved with Viscount Ranelagh - the 7th member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Reed Enger, "The Awakening Conscience," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 24, 2015; last modified June 02, 2020, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/william-holman-hunt/the-awakening-conscience/.