An Allegory of the Spiritual State of Man
The choice of females to provide the central content of this major tempera painting leads to many questions. The figure in the center is perhaps the dominant image in the picture. She is the figure who presents only positive connotations being a lovely, graceful, contented woman surrounded by infants and children who form her entourage.
The gestures of the other women and the objects associated with them give us clues to their character but no definite identification. In his poetry Blake uses females to represent eternal characteristics as they become manifest in the outer world. These qualities which are part of the perfect whole of eternity may acquire either constructive or destructive functions in the lower worlds.
If Blake were portraying Faith, Charity, and Hope in the three central figures at the lowest level, as had been suggested by some scholars, he makes them ambiguous. Faith looks to a book for support rather depending on inner illumination. Charity wears and carries symbols of authority and power and exhibits a priestly gesture. Hope reaches up but is held down by a heavy anchor. The abiding characteristics which Paul cites in First Corinthians, Chapter 13 are not convincingly portrayed by the three women.
The women to the right and left of the central figure can hardly be considered representations of the virtues at any level. The woman to the left appears to be a prude as represented by Blake as Tirzah. To the right is the wanton woman known as Rahab in Blake's poetry. Both of these types exercised their skills in manipulating and dominating man through sexual excesses.
The kneeling woman at the top supported by angels has distanced herself from involvement in worldly activities. Above her head dwells the holy spirit. On her right and left are unidentified figures. It has been suggested that they are Enitharmon to the left; and Los the figure to the right which appears to be androgynous. Enitharmon and Los provided physical bodies to enable life to be generated in space and time.
Vision of Last Judgment, (E 562) "Jesus is surrounded by Beams of Glory in which are seen all around him Infants emanating from him these represent the Eternal Births of Intellect from the divine Humanity A Rainbow surrounds the throne & the Glory in which youthful Nuptials recieve the infants in their hands "
Vision of Last Judgment, (E 554) "The Last Judgment is not Fable or Allegory but Vision Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct & inferior kind of Poetry. Vision or Imagination is a Representation of what Eternally Exists. Really & Unchangeably. Fable or Allegory is Formd by the Daughters of Memory. Imagination is Surrounded by the daughters of Inspiration who in the aggregate are calld Jerusalem"
Jerusalem, Plate 88, (E 246) "Los answerd sighing like the Bellows of his Furnaces I care not! the swing of my Hammer shall measure the starry round[.] When in Eternity Man converses with Man they enter Into each others Bosom (which are Universes of delight) In mutual interchange. and first their Emanations meet Surrounded by their Children. if they embrace & comingle The Human Four-fold Forms mingle also in thunders of Intellect But if the Emanations mingle not; with storms & agitations Of earthquakes & consuming fires they roll apart in fear For Man cannot unite with Man but by their Emanations Which stand both Male & Female at the Gates of each Humanity How then can I ever again be united as Man with Man While thou my Emanation refusest my Fibres of dominion. When Souls mingle & join thro all the Fibres of Brotherhood Can there be any secret joy on Earth greater than this? Enitharmon answerd: This is Womans World, nor need she any Spectre to defend her from Man. I will Create secret places And the masculine names of the places Merlin & Arthur. A triple Female Tabernacle for Moral Law I weave That he who loves Jesus may loathe terrified Female love Till God himself become a Male subservient to the Female. She spoke in scorn & jealousy, alternate torments; and So speaking she sat down on Sussex shore singing lulling Cadences, & playing in sweet intoxication among the glistening Fibres of Los: sending them over the Ocean eastward into The realms of dark death; O perverse to thyself, contrarious To thy own purposes; for when she began to weave Shooting out in sweet pleasure her bosom in milky Love Flowd into the aching fibres of Los. yet contending against him In pride sending his Fibres over to her objects of jealousy In the little lovely Allegoric Night of Albions Daughters Which stretchd abroad, expanding east & west & north & south Thro' all the World of Erin & of Los & all their Children A sullen Smile broke from the Spectre in mockery & scorn Knowing himself the author of their divisions & shrinkings, gratified At their contentions, he wiped his tears he washd his visage."
Laocoon,(E 275) "The True Christian Charity not dependent on Money (the lifes blood of Poor Families) that is on Caesar or Empire or Natural Religion For every Pleasure Money Is Useless Money, which is The Great Satan or Reason the Root of Good & Evil In The Accusation of Sin Where any view of Money exists Art cannot be carried on, but War only (Read Matthew CX. 9 & 10 v) by pretences to the Two Impossibilities Chastity & Abstinence Gods of the Heathen Is not every Vice possible to Man described in the Bible openly All is not Sin that Satan calls so all the Loves & Graces of Eternity."