Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah

Title: The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah

Artist: William Blake

Medium: Pen and black ink, tempera and glue size on canvas

Size: 26.7 x 38.1 cm

Date: c. 1800

Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Events leading up the birth of Jesus began with the birth of his cousin, John the Baptist, being foretold. As documented in Luke 1:5-25, in the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, but they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah was on duty in the temple, and the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” Gabriel explained that many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

Zechariah questioned how such a thing was possible, and because he did not believe what the angel had foretold, Gabriel commanded “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens." When Zechariah came out of the temple the people waiting realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. He returned home, and after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant.

Blake’s depiction of the exchange between Zechariah and the angel Gabriel is set against the dark background, which may have been inspired by prints by Rembrandt. The glittering menorah and luminous garments of the priest and angel appear to glow.

William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Born in London into a working-class family with strong nonconformist religious beliefs, he was largely unrecognized during his lifetime though modern critics now consider Blake a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. For Blake, the Bible was the greatest work of poetry ever written, and comprised the basis of true art, as opposed to the false, pagan ideal of Classicism.

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