Friday, December 07, 2012


Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Angel Appearing to Zacharias
Luke 1
[5] There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
[6] And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
[7] And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
[8] And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
[9] According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
[10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
[11] And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
[12] And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
[13] But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
[14] And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
[15] For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
[16] And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
[17] And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Blake's image of the Angel appearing to Zacharias is among the more literal of his images. Along with the two figures Blake shows the menorah, the altar of incense and the shewbread. Zacharias is the epitome of one in the priestly role, within the sanctuary of the temple and wearing the elaborate vestments of his office. In spite of the dramatic encounter it represents, the picture is particularly rigid and static. 

Blake with this picture sets the stage for the events which will follow. We see here the status quo which is to be disturbed by the child whose immanent appearance is announce by Gabriel. The theme of the birth of a child as the ushering in a series of changes which will alter history is widely recognized. The child who will be Zacharias' son is a step removed from the child who will transform the world; his role will be to prepare the way. But his path will be not that of the priest but of the prophet who will distance himself from the trappings of society and call for the radical reordering of the status quo. 

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