Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge
An Allegory of the Spiritual State of Man
A tempera painting which Blake produced for Thomas Butts is the largest extant of Blake's pictures, having the dimensions of 59 3/8 x 47 3/4 inches. On the left and right borders Blake included detail showing the spiritual history of man from creation through apocalypse. He surrounds the central images with scenes which have identified with Biblical accounts. 

It is not known if in this tempera Blake was illustrating writing of another author or presenting his own ideas in symbolic form. The condition on the picture makes the images difficult to identify. On page 33-36 of William Blake: Catalogue of the Collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge edited by David Bindman we find these identifications of the images on the left and right borders.

On the left side in descending order:
1. Creation by Angel of the Divine Presence
2. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
3. Noah's Ark with Rainbow Beneath
4. left: Abraham and Isaac
4. right: Moses Destroying the Egyptians in the Red Sea
5. Judgment of Solomon
6. The Babylonian Captivity
7. The Crucifixion, Seen from Behind  

On the right side from bottom to top:
8. The Three Marys at the Sepulcher
9. Pentecost
10. Martyrdom by Fire, and St Peter Praying in Prison
11. The Seven-headed Beast of Revelation
12. Angels Blowing the Last Trump
13. Christ in Glory Seated on Flame

Blake envisioned that through the use of his portable Fresco or tempera technique, pictures might be exhibited in public buildings and private homes for the edification or education of the viewer much as the frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael enriched their audience in Italy.

          "The Invention of a portable Fresco.

  A Wall on Canvas or Wood, or any other portable thing, of
dimensions ever so large, or ever so small, which may be removed
with the same convenience as so many easel Pictures; is worthy
the consideration of the Rich and those who have the direction of
public Works.  If the Frescos of APELLES, of PROTOGENES, of
RAPHAEL, or MICHAEL ANGELO could have been removed, we might,
perhaps, have them now in England.  I could divide Westminster
Hall, or the walls of any other great Building, into compartments
and ornament them with Frescos, which would be removable at
  Oil will not drink or absorb Colour enough to stand the test
of very little Time and of the Air; it grows yellow, and at
length brown.  It was never generally used till after VANDYKE'S
time.  All the little old Pictures, called cabinet Pictures, are
in Fresco, and not in Oil.
  Fresco Painting is properly Miniature, or Enamel Painting;
every thing in Fresco is as high finished as Miniature or Enamel,
although in Works larger than Life.  The Art has been lost: I
have recovered it.  How this was done, will be told, together
with the whole Process, in a Work on Art, now in the Press.  The
ignorant Insults of Individuals will not hinder me from doing my
duty to my Art.  Fresco Painting, as it is now practised, is like
most other things, the contrary of what it pretends to be.
  The execution of my Designs, being all in Water-colours,
(that is in Fresco) are regularly refused to be exhibited by the
Royal Academy, and the British Institution has, 
this year, followed its example, and has effectually excluded me 
by this Resolution; I therefore invite those Noblemen and 
Gentlem[e]n, who are its Subscribers, to inspect what they have 
excluded: and those who have been told that my Works are 
but an unscientific and irregular Eccentricity, a Madman's
Scrawls, I demand of them to do me the justice to examine before
they decide.
  There cannot be more than two or three great Painters or
Poets in any Age or Country; and these, in a corrupt state of
Society, are easily excluded, but not so easily obstructed.  They
have ex[c]luded Watercolours; it is therefore become necessary
that I should exhibit to the Public, in an Exhibition of my own,
my Designs, Painted in Watercolours.  If Italy is enriched and
made great by RAPHAEL, if MICHAEL ANGELO is its supreme glory, if
Art is the glory of a Nation, if Genius and Inspiration are the
great Origin and Bond of Society, the distinction my Works have
obtained from those who best understand such things, calls for my
Exhibition as the greatest of Duties to my Country.  
                                             WILLIAM BLAKE"

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