Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre

Title: The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre

Artist: William Blake

Medium: Watercolor, pen and ink

Size: 42.2 x 31.4 cm

Date: c. 1805

Location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Thomas Butts, a civil servant, was one of artist William Blake's most loyal patrons. He commissioned Blake to make over 80 watercolors of subjects from the Bible. This example depicts the body of Jesus Christ, which was placed in a tomb, or sepulchre, following his death by crucifixion. When Mary Magdalene visited the following day, she was startled to find two angels sitting at the head and feet where the body of Jesus had lain. This watercolor is an unusual and striking visual interpretation of the biblical text, strange light and colors used here enhance the sense of the mystery of the scene.

For his imagery Blake sought out a description in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, which recounts the history of the Jews many centuries before the time of Christ. When the prophet Moses is alone on Mount Sinai, Jehovah tells him to instruct the Israelites to make a 'mercy seat' flanked by angels all made of gold (Ex 25:17-20). The description of the angels in Exodus is the source for Blake's design. In this way Blake ties Mary Magdalene's account of the two angels in the sepulchre to the passage from exodus, making that moment a prefiguration of a founding moment of the Christian religion.

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England, Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions, as well as by such thinkers as Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg.

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