Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Monday, November 11, 2019


Wikimedia Commons
Detail of Watercolor for Blair's The Grave 
Our Time Is Fixed
To live in the world of time and space - the material world - a spirit or non-material being must be clothed in matter. This is the origin of the image of the garment. Man puts on the body or flesh as his clothing. Blake's first level of meaning for the garment is this outer encrustation covering the inner identity.

The process of receiving the garment of flesh in which the spirit is enclosed is intimated in this image. The body will be woven from the thread which descends from above. Enitharmon and her Daughters with infinite care weave the web of life to form the generated body as a habitation until the Great Judgment Day.

Milton, Plate 20 [28], (E 123) 
"And every Generated Body in its inward form,
Is a garden of delight & a building of magnificence,
Built by the Sons of Los in Bowlahoola & Allamanda
And the herbs & flowers & furniture & beds & chambers
Continually woven in the Looms of Enitharmons Daughters
In bright Cathedrons golden Dome with care & love & tears"

Milton, Plate 29 [31], (E 128)
"But Enitharmon and her Daughters take the pleasant charge.
To give them to their lovely heavens till the Great Judgment Day
Such is their lovely charge.
Thus Nature is a Vision of the Science of the Elohim."

Jerusalem, Plate 73, (E 229)
"As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains
So Men pass on: but States remain permanent for ever
The Spectres of the Dead bowl round the porches of Los
In the terrible Family feuds of Albions cities & villages
To devour the Body of Albion, hungring & thirsting & ravning
The Sons of Los clothe them & feed, & provide houses & gardens
And every Human Vegetated Form in its inward recesses
Is a house of pleasantness & a garden of delight Built by the
Sons & Daughters of Los in Bowlahoola & in Cathedron"

Jerusalem, Plate 84, (E 242)
"Listen to your Watchmans voice: sleep not before the Furnaces
Eternal Death stands at the door. O God pity our labours.
So Los spoke. to the Daughters of Beulah while his Emanation
Like a faint rainbow waved before him in the awful gloom
Of London City on the Thames from Surrey Hills to Highgate:
Swift turn the silver spindles, & the golden weights play soft
And lulling harmonies beneath the Looms, from Caithness in the north
To Lizard-point & Dover in the south: his Emanation
Joy'd in the many weaving threads in bright Cathedrons Dome
Weaving the Web of life for Jerusalem. the Web of life
Down flowing into Entuthons Vales glistens with soft affections."

Thursday, November 7, 2019


British Museum 
Watercolor 1809
As if an Angel Dropped from the clouds

"but Shakespeare in riper years
gave me his hand"
[Letter to Flaxman, E 707]

With his wide range of interests and knowledge Blake did not confine himself to illustrating/interpreting the bible. For Rev Joseph Thomas, who became an enthusiastic collector of Blake's work, he created this watercolor from Shakespeare's Henry IV. It was included in Thomas' copy of the second folio of Shakespeare's plays.

These are lines from Part 1, Act IV which Blake illustrated:
"All furnished, all in arms,
All plumed like estridges that with the wind
Baited like eagles having lately bathed,
Glittering in golden coats like images,
As full of spirit as the month of May,
And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer,
Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls.
I saw young Harry with his beaver on,

His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed
Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury
And vaulted with such ease into his seat
As if an angel dropped down from the clouds,

To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus

And witch the world with noble horsemanship."

This scene portrayed a moment of transformation for young Hal. On the battlefield his prowess was realized as fitting him for his future role as king. Blake used the horse Pegasus, and the rising sun to symbolize the new energy with which the young prince had been imbued. The momentous event was recorded by a heavenly scribe. To be fully prepared the Prince must then secure the horse with the rope he held.

An earlier lost fresco treatment of this subject was included in Blake's exhibit of 1809 for which the Descriptive Catalogue was written:
Descriptive Catalogue, (E 545)

                       "NUMBER VI.
  A Spirit vaulting from a cloud to turn and wind a fiery
Pegasus--Shakspeare.  The horse of Intellect is leaping from the
cliffs of Memory and Reasoning; it is a barren Rock: it is also
called the Barren Waste of Locke and Newton.

THIS Picture was done many years ago, and was one of the first
Mr. B. ever did in Fresco; fortunately or rather providentially
he left it unblotted and unblurred, although molested continually
by blotting and blurring demons; but he was also compelled to
leave it unfinished for reasons that will be shewn in the following."
Milton, Plate 1, (E 95)
"Shakspeare & Milton were
both curbd by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek
& Latin slaves of the Sword.

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 534)
 "For the Host who follows this group, and holds the center 
of the cavalcade, is a first rate character, and his jokes are 
no trifles; they are always, though uttered with audacity, and
equally free with the Lord and the Peasant, they are always
substantially and weightily expressive of knowledge and
experience; Henry Baillie, the keeper of the greatest Inn, of 
the greatest City; for such was the Tabarde Inn in Southwark, 
near London: our Host was also a leader of the age.
By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in
Macbeth.  Those who dress them for the stage, consider
them as wretched old women, and not as Shakspeare intended, the
Goddesses of Destiny; this shews how Chaucer has been
misunderstood in his sublime work.  Shakspeare's Fairies also 
are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's; 
let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, 
and not else.

Here is a quote from the source of my information:
Chantelle L. MacPhee (2002) "All the World's a Stage": William Blake and William ShakespearePhD thesis.

"Joseph Thomas commissioned this illustration from Blake for his copy of the second folio of Shakespeare's plays. The inspiration for the picture comes from 1 Henry IV 4.1.107-110, where Sir Richard Vernon at the Battle of Shrewsbury comments on the sudden transformation of Prince Hal into a soldier who vaulted with such ease into his seat As if an angel [dropp' d] down from the clouds To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus And witch the world with noble horsemanship. 

Prince Hal's transformation on the battlefield not only confirms his military prowess, but his intellectual prowess as well. The illustration's suggestion of the "dawn of a new day" and Pegasus's reaction in the picture space suggest rebirth, regeneration and the male figure's stance suggests final acceptance of his future role as King of England."


Sunday, November 3, 2019


British Museum
Copy D, plate 13
British Museum commentary for this plate: 
"Copy D, plate 13; above, a papal figure with bat's wings sitting on an ornate throne, floating on a cloud, with an open book on his knees; below on each side a winged gowned female figure holding a sceptre; the sceptres pointing downwards and meeting above the text at the bottom of the plate, as though they were an upside-down pair of compasses; 5 lines of verse beginning "Albions Angel rose...". 1794 Europe,"
Europe, Plate 11 [13], (E 64)
"Albions Angel rose upon the Stone of Night.
He saw Urizen on the Atlantic;
And his brazen Book,
That Kings & Priests had copied on Earth
Expanded from North to South."
April 25, 2014 - Larry's post:
A Blakean View of Christianity

       The immediate followers of Jesus were accused of turning the world upside down. They followed him in challenging all forms of worldly power including death. One can make a good case for the idea that the Christian by definition challenges the powers of the world; that's certainly the meaning of 'radical Christian'.
       Blake perceived the legacy that Jesus left behind in two ways. On one hand the church as the mystical body of Christ consists of those who continually challenge the authority or powers of the world. On the other hand the Church as an institution becomes one of the powers of the world. The tension between these two principles probably exists within the breast of anyone seriously interested in Christ.
       In the second century Ignatius of Antioch eloquently embodied that tension with his life. Ignatius died a martyr to the secular power of the Roman Empire. Before that happened, he had spent much of his time as an ecclesiastical authority rooting out dissenters, whom he called heretics; he did this in the course of establishing the institutional authority of what became the Roman Church.
       With Constantine these two streams of authority came together. In 312 A.D. the new emperor declared himself a Christian and assumed control of the Church. He exercised that control through the simple device of naming his most trusted servant as bishop. The Church became an arm of the political power of the empire.
       From that day to this the Church has been primarily one of the powers of the world. The power of the Church has been expressed through ecclesiastical hierarchies and creeds, both imposed upon the rank and file by various coercive techniques essentially identical with those of other worldly powers. This means that the spiritual reality of Christ vis-a-vis the Church is only actualized through the same sort of dissent that Jesus made in the beginning.
       These conclusions of course may be debated, but they represent the basic and lifelong viewpoint underlying the radical protest which was Blake's art.

Jerusalem, Plate 52, (E 201)                  
"and many believed what they saw, and
Prophecied of Jesus.
  Man must & will have Some Religion; if he has not the Religion
of Jesus, he will have the Religion of Satan, & will erect the
Synagogue of Satan. calling the Prince of this World, God; and
destroying all who do not worship Satan under the Name of God. 
Will any one say: Where are those who worship Satan under the
Name of God! Where are they? Listen! Every Religion that Preaches
Vengeance for Sins the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not
the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine
Name   Your Religion O Deists: Deism, is the Worship of the God
of this World by the means of what you call Natural Religion and
Natural Philosophy, and of Natural Morality or
Self-Righteousness, the Selfish Virtues of the Natural Heart. 
This was the Religion of the Pharisees who murderd Jesus.  Deism
is the same & ends in the same."

Friday, November 1, 2019


Museum of fine Arts Boston
Abraham Preparing to Sacrifice Isaac
c. 1783
Genesis 22
[1] And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
[2] And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
[3] And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
[4] Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
[5] And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you,
[6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
[7] And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
[8] And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
[9] And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
[10] And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
[11And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
[12] And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
[13] And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

 This image of Abraham and Isaac is in harmony with Blake's understanding of God. We see here the bond between father and son, between God and man. The bond for Blake was that of mutual forgiveness. Abraham understood that God was testing him by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The boy went with his father to the mountain knowing that no sacrificial animal was brought. Abraham laid the fire, bound his son and produced the knife. Only then did the angel indicate that the human sacrifice was not required. Abraham realized that he had demonstrated his obedience. The God with whom he interacted was a God whose love did not require child sacrifice.

Abraham's consciousness was altered. Taking human life was not compatible with worshiping a God of justice, love and mercy. He could obey and please God and also raise his son Isaac. The alteration of Abraham's consciousness represented an evolution of the image of God whom man worshiped. Man's relationship to God was modified; man thought differently about God but the God to whom he related was a different God too.

Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
"Saying, Doth Jehovah Forgive a Debt only on condition that it shall
Be Payed? Doth he Forgive Pollution only on conditions of Purity
That Debt is not Forgiven! That Pollution is not Forgiven
Such is the Forgiveness of the Gods, the Moral Virtues of the    
Heathen, whose tender Mercies are Cruelty. But Jehovahs Salvation
Is without Money & without Price, in the Continual Forgiveness of Sins
In the Perpetual Mutual Sacrifice in Great Eternity! for behold!
There is none that liveth & Sinneth not! And this is the Covenant
Of Jehovah: If you Forgive one-another, so shall Jehovah Forgive You:" 

Monday, October 28, 2019


Reposted from October 2011.

Othello and Desdemona
Dated about 1780
from Thomas Butts collection
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
acquired 1890

In the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a group of Blake's illustrations to Shakespeare which are said to have been painted around 1780. Each picture is a close-up portrait of one or two characters in a play of Shakespeare. The pictures were later in Thomas Butts' collection although the estimated date of production is years before Butts is known to have been purchasing Blake's art.

In 1779 Blake had completed his apprenticeship as an engraver with Basire. He was enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools and was seeking to establish himself as a painter as well as an engraver. The Shakespeare pictures are conventional subjects painted in a conventional style, far from the subject matter and methods of production Blake was to employ as he matured.

Here are more of Blake's illustrations for Shakespeare's plays in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston:
Lear and Cordelia

Cordelia and Sleeping Lear

Lear Grasping a Sword

Falstaff and Prince Hal

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Juliet Asleep


Wikipedia Commons
Jacob's Dream
Blake was fortunate in finding a loyal patron who shared his interest in biblical subjects. After painting fifty temperas for Thomas Butts with biblical themes, Blake began a series of biblical watercolors of surpassing beauty. Jacob's Dream was painted c.1805 and included in the Royal Academy Exhibition that year. 

The Old Testament story tells of Jacob traveling alone through the desert, spending the night and using stones for pillows. He was visited by a memorable dream which concluded with a promise from God that in his seed all the families of the earth be should blessed.   

When Blake painted his watercolor of Jacob's Dream he added images beyond what Jacob reported. Notice that the upper part of the picture is illumined by the sun and the lower by the stars. There are ascending and descending figures as Jacob beheld. Those moving upward are women with children in their care. Descending are women carrying items which are symbolic of God's provisions for man while he is on Earth: bread and wine (elements of Communion), scroll and book (OT and NT scripture), the Arts of poetry (open scroll), painting (compass), music (lyre) and architecture (stair). Although Jacob saw angels, only a few of Blake's figures are pictured as angels.   

Genesis 28
[10] And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.
[11] And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
[12] And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
[13] And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
[14] And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
[15] And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
[16] And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
[17] And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 

Milton, Plate 27 [29] (E 125)
"Here are the stars created & the seeds of all things planted
And here the Sun & Moon recieve their fixed destinations

But in Eternity the Four Arts: Poetry, Painting, Music,          
And Architecture which is Science: are the Four Faces of Man.
Not so in Time & Space: there Three are shut out, and only
Science remains thro Mercy: & by means of Science, the Three
Become apparent in time & space, in the Three Professions

Poetry in Religion: Music, Law: Painting, in Physic & Surgery:

That Man may live upon Earth till the time of his awaking,
And from these Three, Science derives every Occupation of Men." 
Vision of Last Judgment, (E 556) 
"beneath the falling figure of Cain is Moses casting his tables of
stone into the Deeps. it ought to be understood that the Persons
Moses & Abraham are not here meant but the States Signified by
those Names the Individuals being representatives or Visions of
those States as they were reveald to Mortal Man in the Series of
Divine Revelations. as they are written in the Bible these
various States I have seen in my Imagination when distant they
appear as One Man but as you approach they appear
Multitudes of Nations.  Abraham hovers above his posterity which
appear as Multitudes of Children ascending from the Earth
surrounded by Stars as it was said As the Stars of Heaven for
Multitude Jacob & his Twelve Sons hover beneath
the feet of Abraham & recieve their children from the Earth   I
have seen when at a distance Multitudes of Men in Harmony appear
like a single Infant sometimes in the Arms of a Female"

Thursday, October 24, 2019


After Blake completed his engraving apprenticeship he aspired to establish himself as a reproductive engraver and as a painter. He enrolled in the Royal Academy which had been formed to encourage and support artists. His acceptance made his eligible to enroll in classes and apply to have his work displayed at the annual Exhibition. His first item which was accepted in 1780 was the watercolor drawing The Death of Earl Godwin. In 1785 he exhibited four History Painting in the style of work encouraged by the Academy. Three of his works shown in that exhibition concerned the biblical story of Joseph and are included in this post.

In Life of William Blake, Volume 1 by Alexander Gilchrist, Anne Gilchrist there is more about the early type of work Blake executed to gain acceptance into the community of artists:

"From 27, Broad Street, Blake in 1785 sent four water-colour drawings or frescos, in his peculiar acceptation of the term, to the Academy-Exhibition... One of Blake's drawings is from Gray, The Bard. 

The others are subjects from the Story of Joseph: Joseph's Brethren bowing before him; Joseph making himself known to them; Joseph ordering Simeon to be bound. The latter series I have seen. The drawings are interesting for their imaginative merit, and as specimens, full of soft tranquil beauty, of Blake's earlier style: a very different one from that of his later and better-known works. Conceived in a dramatic spirit, they are executed in a subdued key, of which extravagance is the last defect to suggest itself. The design is correct and blameless, not to say tame (for Blake), the colour full, harmonious and sober. At the head of the Academy-Catalogues of those days, stands the stereotype notification, 'The pictures &c. marked (*) are to be disposed of.' Blake's are not so marked: let us hope they were disposed of! The three Joseph drawings turned up within the last ten years in their original close rose-wood frames (a far from advantageous setting), at a broker's in Wardour Street, who had purchased them at a furniture-sale in the neighbourhood. They were sent to the International Exhibition of 1862." 

Fitzwilliam Museum
The Story of Joseph
Joseph ordering Simeon to be bound
Genesis 42
[8] And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
[18] And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
[19] If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
[20] But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
[21] And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
[22] And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
[23] And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
[24And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.

Fitzwilliam Museum
The Story of Joseph
Joseph's brethren bowing down before him 
Genesis 43 
[25] And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.
[26] And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.
[27] And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?
[28] And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
[29] And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.

Fitzwilliam Museum
The Story of Joseph
Joseph making himself known to his brethren 
[1] Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
[2] And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
[3] And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
[4] And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
[5] Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
[13] And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.
[14] And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
[15] Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.
[16] And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants.