Monday, December 13, 2010

The Angels appearing to the Shepherds

Title: The Angels appearing to the Shepherds
Artist: William Blake
Medium: Pencil, pen and ink (brown) & watercolor
Size: 25.5 x 19.3 cm
Date: 1809
Location: The Whitworth Art gallery, Manchester.

Luke 2:8-15: There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby. It was night, and they were looking after their sheep. An angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Here is how you will know I am telling you the truth. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger." Suddenly a large group of angels from heaven also appeared. They were praising God. They said, "May glory be given to God in the highest heaven! And may peace be given to those he is pleased with on earth!" The angels left and went into heaven. Then the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem. Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

Joy comes with an angelic proclamation of good news (euangelizomai). The message is for all the people. Though in the original context such a messianic announcement would have been understood as being for the people of Israel, the development of Jesus' ministry shows that Jesus' work reaches beyond such national boundaries. As with other incidents in the infancy material, the angel describes a sign: the shepherds will know this announcement is true when they see the child in a manger. The angelic announcement does not come in mystical isolation; it connects to concrete events.

William Blake (November 1757 – August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Blake is 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. Blake's work was neglected for a generation after his death and was almost forgotten when Alexander Gilchrist began work on his biography in the 1860s. The publication of the Life of William Blake rapidly transformed Blake's reputation, in particular as he was taken up by Pre-Raphaelites and associated figures, in particular Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. It was in the twentieth century, however, that Blake's work was fully appreciated and his influence increased.

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