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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


A Vision of the Last Judgment
Page 51 Drawings of William Blake: 92 Pencil Studies
By Sir Geoffrey Keynes
Blake's interest in making images of the Last Judgment seems never to have flagged. There is a drawing of the Last Judgment in the National Gallery of Art in  Washington DC which is tentatively dated as 1809. Scholars tell us that it most closely matches the description in A Vision of the Last Judgment which Blake appended to A Descriptive Catalogue in 1810, although differences make it plain that it was another similar, lost version which was being described.

David Bindman, in William Blake: His Art and Times, gives us an idea of the reason Blake returned to portraying the Last Judgment over a period of many years.

"If the Old and New Testament contain 'All that Exists', then the artist must aspire to bring all the spiritual states of man together in one mighty work. Blake's greatest painting, now lost, would have been the tempera of the Last Judgment, containing, according to someone who saw it in his lifetime, 'upwards of one thousand figures.' He worked on it for the last twenty-five years of his life, and it is known from a detailed description and a number of watercolors and drawings. Although seemingly conventional in structure and recognizable in terms of traditional iconography, as an attempt to encompass all the history of the human spirit from Fall to Redemption it is an equivalent in pictorial terms of Jerusalem, which was the culmination of Blake's efforts, beginning with the Prophecies of the 1790s, to create a Bible of his own." (Page 20)

In picturing not individual humans but the states through which man travels, Blake is able to give us an image which portrays Biblical history, the development of civilization, the journey man travels in his life in time and space, and the psyche's evolution toward wholeness -  depending on the perspective through which one studies it.

Because of the length of Blake's description, the text for this post will include only the Fall which is portrayed to the left of Jesus or the right side of the picture.

A Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 555)
            "For the Year 1810 
    Additions to Blakes Catalogue of Pictures &
Here follows the description of the Picture 
Jesus seated between the Two Pillars Jachin &
Boaz with the Word of Revelation on his Knees & on each
side the
four & twenty Elders sitting in Judgment the Heavens opening
around him by unfolding the clouds around his throne The Old
H[eaven] & old Earth are passing away & the
N[ew] H[eaven] & N[ew] Earth
descending The Just arise on his right &
the wicked on his Left hand A Sea of fire Issues from before the
Throne Adam & Eve appear first before the [throne]
 in humiliation Abel surrounded by Innocents &
Cain with the flint in his hand with which he slew his brother
falling with the head downward From the Cloud on which Eve stands
Satan is seen falling headlong wound round by the tail of the
serpent whose bulk naild to the Cross round which he wreathes is
falling into the Abyss Sin is also represented as a female bound
in one of the Serpents folds surrounded by her fiends Death is
Chaind to the Cross & Time falls together with death dragged down
by [an Angel] a Demon crownd with Laurel another demon
with a Key has the charge of Sin & is dragging her down by the
hair beside them a figure is seen scaled with iron scales from
head to feet precipitating himself into the Abyss with the Sword
& Balances he is Og King of Bashan--
     <On the Right> Beneath the Cloud on which Abel kneels is
Abraham with Sarah & Isaac also Hagar & Ishmael.
Abel kneels on a bloody Cloud descriptive of those
Churches before the flood that they were filld with blood & fire
& vapour of smoke even till Abrahams time the vapour & heat was
not Extinguishd These States Exist now Man Passes on but States
remain for Ever he passes thro them like a traveller who may as
well suppose that the places he has passed thro exist no more as
a Man may suppose that the States he has passd thro exist no more
Every Thing is Eternal
In Eternity one Thing never Changes into
another Thing Each Identity is Eternal consequently Apuleius's
Golden Ass & Ovids Metamorphosis & others of the like kind are
Fable yet they contain Vision in a Sublime degree being derived
from real Vision in More Ancient Writings  Lots Wife
being Changed into Pillar of Salt alludes to the Mortal Body
being renderd a Permanent Statue but not Changed or Transformed
into Another Identity while it retains its own Individuality.  A
Man can never become Ass nor Horse some are born with shapes of
Men who may be both but Eternal Identity is one thing & Corporeal
Vegetation is another thing Changing Water into Wine by Jesus &
into Blood by Moses relates to Vegetable Nature also 
Beneath Ishmael is Mahomet
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
- 556 -
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
this represented the Church
     But to proceed with the description of those on the Left
hand. beneath the Cloud on which Moses kneels is two figures a
Male & Female chaind together by the feet. they
represent those who perishd by the flood. beneath them a
multitude of their associates are seen falling headlong. by the
side of them is a Mighty fiend with a Book in his hand which is
Shut he represents the person namd in Isaiah XXII.c & 20.V.
Eliakim the Son of Hilkiah he drags Satan down headlong he is
crownd with oak  by the side of the Scaled figure
representing Og King of Bashan is a Figure with a Basket emptiing
out the vanities of Riches & Worldly Honours  he is Araunah the
Jebusite master of the threshing floor   above him are two
figures elevated on a Cloud representing the Pharisees who
plead their own Righteousness before the throne. they are weighed
down by two fiends. Beneath the Man with the Basket are three
fiery fiends with grey beards & scourges of fire they represent
Cruel Laws they scourge a groupe of figures down into the Deeps
beneath them are various figures in attitudes of contention
representing various States of Misery which alas every one on
Earth is liable to enter into & against which we should all watch
     The Ladies will be pleasd to see that I have represented the
Furies by Three Men & not by three Women It is not because I
think the Ancients wrong but they will be pleasd to remember that
mine is Vision & not Fable The Spectator may suppose them
Clergymen in the Pulpit Scourging Sin instead of Forgiving it
     The Earth beneath these falling Groupes of figures is rocky
& burning and seems as if convulsd by Earthquakes a Great City
 is seen in the Distance  On the foreground hell is opened & many figures
are descending into it down stone steps & beside a Gate beneath a
rock where Sin & Death are to be
closed Eternally by that Fiend who carries the Key in one hand &
drags them down with the other  On the rock & above the Gate a
fiend with wings urges the wicked onwards with fiery darts he
is Hazael the Syrian who 
drives abroad all those who rebell against their Saviour  
beneath the steps Babylon represented by a King crowned Grasping
his Sword & his Scepter he is just awakend out of his Grave
around him are other Kingdoms arising to Judgment. represented in
this Picture as Single Personages according to the descriptions
in the Prophets The Figure dragging up a Woman by her hair
represents the
- 557 -
Inquisition as do those contending on the sides of the Pit & in
Particular the Man Strangling two Women represents a Cruel Church 
Two persons one in Purple the other in Scarlet are
descending down the Steps into the Pit
these are Caiphas & Pilate Two States where all those reside who
Calumniate & Murder under Pretence of Holiness & Justice
Caiphas has a Blue Flame like a Miter on his head   Pilate has
bloody hands that never can be cleansed the Females behind them
represent the Females belonging to such States who are under
perpetual terrors & vain dreams plots & secret deceit.  Those
figures that descend into the Flames before Caiphas & Pilate are
Judas & those of his Class Achitophel is also here with the cord
in his hand 
Between the Figures of Adam & Eve appears a fiery
Gulph descending from the sea of fire Before the throne in this
Cataract Four Angels descend headlong  with four trumpets to
awake the Dead. beneath these is the Seat of the Harlot namd
Mystery in the Revelations.  She is siezed by
Two Beings each with three heads they Represent Vegetative
Existence. it is written in Revelations they strip her naked
& burn her with fire it represents the Eternal Consummation of
Vegetable Life & Death with its Lusts The wreathed Torches in
their hands represents Eternal Fire which is the fire of
Generation or Vegetation it is an Eternal Consummation Those who
are blessed with Imaginative Vision see This Eternal Female &
tremble at what others fear not while they  laugh at
what others fear> . beneath her
feet is a flaming Cavern in which is seen the Great Red Dragon
with Seven heads & ten Horns  he has Satans book
of Accusations lying on the rock open before him he is bound
in chains by Two strong demons they are Gog & Magog who have 
been compelld to subdue their Master Ezekiel  with
their Hammer & Tongs about to new Create the Seven Headed
Kingdoms.  The Graves beneath are opend & the Dead awake & obey
the call of the Trumpet those on the Right hand awake in joy
those on the Left in Horror. beneath the Dragons Cavern a
Skeleton begins to Animate starting into life at the Trumpets

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