Artist: William Blake
Medium: Watercolor and pen drawing over pencil
Size: 40.9 x 35.8 cm
Date: c. 1800
Location: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino.
19 IMAGES FROM THE 19th CENTURY: PART 1
Acts of the Apostles 9:3-9 As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. “But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone.
Rather than falling to the earth as the bible describes Saul, Blake pictures him astride a great horse that has gone to ground. Saul looks up to the vision above in rapt awe and extends his arms in a cruciform gesture that foreshadows his acceptance of Christ’s crucifixion as a cornerstone of his new faith. One face on the left is turned upward to be illuminated by divine light, but the remainder of the helmeted soldiers accompanying Saul bow their heads and cover their eyes, hearing a voice but seeing no man. The single visual witness stresses the corporeality of Christ’s presence and suggests that the vision given to Saul can transfigure all but those who willfully turn from the light.
William Blake (November 1757 – August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and print maker. One of Blake’s main influences was the society in which he lived. He lived during revolutionary times and witnessed the downfall of London during Britain’s war with republican France. His disgust with society grew as he matured and 'The Songs of Innocence and Experience' depict this transition. He held radical religious ideas for the time; he did not believe in a religion of nature or reason, but thought man’s nature was imaginative and mystical. Blake’s preoccupation with good and evil as well as his strong philosophical and religious beliefs remained throughout his life and he never stopped depicting them in his poetry and engravings. He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1827. It seems his art had been too adventurous and unconventional for early nineteenth century, and he did not become widely known until 1863 with Alexander Gilchrist’s biography.