Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Detail of the Crucifixion of St. Peter 
by Michelangelo in the Cappella Paolina. 

When Blake was a young apprentice just learning his trade of engraving he choose as his subject an image from a figure by Michelangelo. Blake was familiar with the work of Michelangelo through prints which he studied to become familiar with the great art of the past. A small portion of a fresco in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican presented an image of a powerful but pensive man caught in the crowd gathered around the crucifixion of Peter. The craft of engraving requires the artist to intensely concentrate his focus on the image he is engraving . Michelangelo's figure became to Blake more than just a picture. It became Joseph of Arimathea, if became William Blake, it became everyman, it became Albion.

British Museum
Nicolas Beatrizet
(after Michelangelo)
Figure of a Man
British Museum
Student Engraving
British Museum
Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion 
c. 1810
According to the Gospel of John it was Joseph of Arimathea who requested that Roman governor Pilate release the body of Jesus for burial. Legends grew up around Joseph including that he was Jesus' uncle, a tin merchant who had taken Jesus on a trip to England with him when Jesus was an adolescent. The legend included the idea that Joseph stood by helplessly when Jesus was crucified, perhaps standing at a distance to avoid arousing the attention of the Roman Soldiers or the Jewish authorities. The legend continued with Joseph using a Chalice to catch the blood of the Lord as it flowed from the wound in his side. The Chalice became identified as the Holy Grail and as the story goes, traveled to England with Joseph.
The legend tells of Joseph founding Christianity in England at Glastonbury in Cornwall. It is events in this tale which led to Blake's writing the lines:

"And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!"


Blake did not forget the image which he had made when an apprentice to Basire. He returned to it years later reengraved it with additional detail and words to explain what it meant to him. The image tied him to Joseph of Arimathea, to Jesus, to Michelangelo and to the restored Albion which incorporated the idea of Jerusalem being built in England's green and pleasant land.

Harold Bloom commenting on The Everlasting Gospel, (E 876):

"But in the 1818 fragment the drama remains the static threefold scene: Christ and Lucifer arguing their opposite views before "Me" (Every man, or Joseph of Arimathea, or Blake)."
 Inscriptions, (E 671)
     "JOSEPH of Arimathea among The Rocks of Albion
Engraved by W Blake 1773 from an old Italian Drawing 
     This is One of the Gothic Artists who Built the Cathedrals
in what we call the Dark Ages    Wandering about in sheep skins &
goat skins of  whom  the World was not worthy   such were the
Christians in all Ages
     Michael Angelo Pinxit" 

Inscriptions, (E 671)
[on a proof of the early state of the plate]
     "Engraved when I was a beginner at Basires from a drawing by
Salviati after Michael Angelo" 
Four Zoas, Night VIII, Page 110 [106], (E 379)
"Thus was the Lamb of God condemnd to Death            
They naild him upon the tree of Mystery weeping over him
And then mocking & then worshipping calling him Lord & King
Sometimes as twelve daughters lovely & sometimes as five
They stood in beaming beauty & sometimes as one even Rahab
Who is Mystery Babylon the Great the Mother of Harlots    

Jerusalem saw the Body dead upon the Cross She fled away 
Saying Is this Eternal Death   Where shall I hide from Death
Pity me Los pity me Urizen & let us build    
A Sepulcher & worship Death in fear while yet we live 
Death! God of All from whom we rise to whom we all return
And Let all Nations of the Earth worship at the Sepulcher      
With Gifts & Spices with lamps rich embossd jewels & gold

Los took the Body from the Cross Jerusalem weeping over
They bore it to the Sepulcher which Los had hewn in the rock 
Of Eternity for himself he hewd it despairing of Life Eternal" 

Four Zoas, Night VIII, PAGE 103, (E 375) 
"The sorrower of Eternity in love with tears submiss I rear
My Eyes to thy Pavilions hear my prayer for Luvahs sake
I see the murderer of my Luvah clothd in robes of blood
He who assured my Luvahs throne in times of Everlasting
Where hast thou hid him whom I love in what remote Abyss 
Resides that God of my delight O might my eyes behold
My Luvah then could I deliver all the sons of God
From Bondage of these terrors & with influences sweet   
As once in those eternal fields in brotherhood & Love
United we should live in bliss as those who sinned not 
The Eternal Man is seald by thee never to be deliverd
We are all servants to thy will O King of Light relent
Thy furious power be our father & our loved King
But if my Luvah is no more If thou hast smitten him
And laid him in the Sepulcher Or if thou wilt revenge     
His murder on another Silent I bow with dread
But happiness can never [come] to thee O King nor me
For he was source of every joy that this mysterious tree
Unfolds in Allegoric fruit. When shall the dead revive
Can that which has existed cease or can love & life Expire"

John 19
[33] But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
[34] But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
[35] And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
[36] For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
[37] And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
[38] And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
[39] And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
[40] Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
[41] Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
[42] There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Matthew 27
[57] When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
[58] He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
[59] And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
[60] And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

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