William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job


William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job

William Blake's "Illustrations of the Book of Job" (published 1826) is a series of twenty-two engraved prints illustrating the biblical Book of Job. It is considered to be Blake's greatest masterpiece in the medium of the visual arts [cite book |last=Schoenherr |first= |title= |date=1997 |pages= 41 ] [cite book |last=Essick |first= |title= |date=1980 |pages= 234 ] .

Artistic Influences

From early in his artistic career, Blake collected the prints of Albrecht Dürer. The depiction of Behemoth in plate 15 of the engravings is believed to have been influenced by Dürer's Rhinoceros. [cite book
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]

Blake's interpretation of The Book of Job

The Book of Job was an important influence upon Blake's writings and art [cite book |last=Schoenherr |first= |title= |date=1997 |pages= 42 ] ; Blake apparently identified with Job, as he spent his lifetime unrecognized and impoverished. Harold Bloom has interpreted Blake's most famous lyric, "The Tyger", as a revision of God's rhetorical questions in the Book of Job concerning Behemoth and Leviathan [cite book |last= Bloom |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |title= |series= |date=2006 |pages= 17 |chapter=Introduction ] . Blake also depicted the story of Job throughout his career as an artist. The song of Enion in Night the Second of The Four Zoas also demonstrates that Blake identified with Job [ cite book
last = Bloom
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title = footnote
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date = 1988
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quote = This biblical lyric echoes Job 28:12-13 in its very powerful lines 35:11-13...It is difficult not to think of Blake himself in lines 35:11-15.
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These lines read:

What is the price of Experience do men buy it for a song
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath his house his wife his children
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
And in the witherd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain
] [cite book
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date = 1966
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] .

The God of Job's comforters, who claim that Job's trials are punishment for his sins, is to Blake a false god, equivalent to the demiurge of the Gnostics. This was more of a distinction between Elohim (the creator) and Yahweh (the law-giver) than it was any direct influence of Gnosticism.Fact|date=September 2008 For Blake, Yahweh was an imposer of laws upon a humanity that could never keep to them- he appears in plate 11 as a cloven-hoofed apparition who menaces Job while pointing to the tablets of the covenant with his left hand. In Blake's mythology he is analogous to "the Accuser of Sin", the spectre, and Urizen.

Use of Symbols

Blake used symbolism extensively in the illustrations; most notable is the use of right and left limbs in the figures [cite book
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Foster attributes the origin of this observation to Joseph Wickstead's "Blake's Vision of the Book of Job", 1924.
] . The right limb represents the spiritual, the left, the material. In plate six, Satan smites Job with boils using his left hand, and in plate 15 God indicates Behemoth and Leviathan with his left hand. Contrarily, God banishes Satan with his right hand in plate sixteen and speaks to Job from the whirlwind in plate fourteen with his right foot extended forward.

Printing history

As early as 1793 Blake had engraved an illustration to the Book of Job, which he offered for sale in the "Prospectus to the Public" for twelve shillings [* cite book
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date = 1988
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pages = 692-3
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] . This, alongside an engraving of Ezekial, are the only extant examples of an intended series of biblical illustrations that were never completed. Blake reworked the Job plate sometime after 1804, but the resulting print was not included in the Illustrations to the Book of Job.

The engraved illustrations to Job are based upon a series of watercolors that Blake began work upon in 1805 and presented to Thomas Butts in 1810. A second set of watercolors was produced in 1821 at the request of John Linell, who in 1823 formally commissioned Blake to engrave plates for printing.

The engravings were completed in 1825, and an edition of 315 was produced in 1826. These were the last set of illustrations that Blake would complete. His illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy were left unfinished upon his death.

The completed engravings differ from Blake's original watercolors mainly in the complex marginal designs that they employ. These comment upon the text with biblical quotes and paraphrases, and also contain images that reinforce the themes of the main illustrations.

Critical reception

Of the edition of 315, only 20 copies of the illustrations were sold in Blake's lifetime, and those to people within Blake's immediate circle, such as Samuel Palmer. However, the illustrations gained recognition after Blake's death more quickly than his prophetic books. As early as 1857 John Ruskin wrote of Blake in "The Elements of Drawing" that

The "Book of Job", engraved by himself, is of the highest rank in certain characters of imagination and expression; in the mode of obtaining certain effects of light it will also prove a very useful example to you. In expressing conditions of glaring and flickering light, Blake is greater than Rembrandt. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=nEg8ULbzEJcC&pg=PA223&dq=Blake+is+greater+than+rembrandt#PPA223,M1 "The Elements of Drawing" in "The Works of John Ruskin", ed. Edward Tyas Cook, on Google Books] ]

List of Illustrations

*Title page
#"Thus did Job continually" (Job i:5)
#"When the Almighty was yet with me, When my Children were about me" (Job xxix:5)
#"Thy Sons & thy Daughters were eating & drinking Wine in their eldest Brothers house & behold there came a great wind from the Wilderness & smote upon the four faces of the house & it fell upon the young Men & they are Dead" based upon (Job i:18-19)
#"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee." (Job i:15)
#"Then went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord" based upon (Job ii:7)
#"And smote Job with sore Boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head" (Job ii:7)
#"And when they lifted up their eyes afar off & knew him not they lifted up their voice & wept, and rent every Man his mantle & sprinkled dust upon their heads towards heaven"
#"Let the Day perish wherin I was Born" Based upon (Job iii:3)
#"Then a Spirit passed before my face the hair of my flesh stood up" (Job 4:14)
#"the Just Upright Man is laughed to scorn" (Job xii:4)
#"With Dreams upon my bed thou scarest me & affrightest me with Visions"
#"I am Young & ye are very Old wherefore I was afraid"
#"Then the Lord answered Job out of the Whirlwind"
#"When the morning Stars sang together, & all the Sons of God shouted for joy"
#"Behold now Behemoth which I made with thee"
#"Thou hast fulfilled the Judgment of the Wicked"
#"I have heard thee with the hearing of the Ear but now my Eye seeth thee"
#"And my Servant Job shall pray for you"
#"Every one also gave him a piece of Money"
#"There were not found Women as fair as the Daughters of Job in all the Land & their Father gave them Inheritance among their Brethren"
#"So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than the beginning"

Footnotes

External links

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=bBMAAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#PPT4,M1 All of the illustrations on Google Books]
* [http://library.uncg.edu/depts/speccoll/exhibits/Blake/illustrations_of_the_book_of_job.html Information from the Jackson Library at the University of North Carolina at Greenboro]
* [http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1286&Itemid=99999999 The list of plates] at the Library of Liberty
* [http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/work.xq?workid=but550&java=no Complete set of the watercolor illustrations at the Blake archive]

References

* cite book
last = Foster
first = S. Damon (Commentator)
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Blake's Job: William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job
publisher = University Press of New England
date = 1966
location = Hanover, New Hampshire
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0874512417

* cite book
last = Essick
first = Robert N.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = William Blake, Printmaker
publisher = Princeton University Press
date = 1980
location = Princeton, N.J.
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =

* cite book
last = Erdman
first = David V. (Editor)
authorlink = David V. Erdman
coauthors = Harold Bloom
title = The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake
publisher = Random House
date = 1988
location = New York
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0385152132

*

*


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