Sunday, October 14, 2018


British Museum
Sketch for Royal Universal Family Bible
Description from British Museum:
"St John the Evangelist before a vision of Christ, an illustration from Revelation, i, 12-16 engraved by Blake for 'Royal Universal Family Bible'. c.1782 Brush drawing in grey wash, over graphite"

Revelation 1
[12] And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
[13] And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
[14] His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
[15] And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
[16] And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

Early in William Blake's career as an engraver he was engaged to make illustrations for an ambitious publication of the Bible titled The Royal Universal Family Bible. Along with notes and commentary, there were 100 pages of illustrations included in the publication of which Blake engraved five. A single plate illustrating 'St John the Evangelist before a vision of Christ' was also designed by Blake.

The sketch for the plate Blake designed and engraved for The Royal Universal Family Bible is in the collection of the British Museum. The illustration engraved by Blake of the design is included in William Blake: Book Illustrator by Roger Easson and Robert Essick.  

The Royal Universal Family Bible
From William Blake, Book Illustrator
By Easson and Essick
Plate 1
It is apropos that one of Blake's first published engravings was based upon a scripture concerning a vision. During his long career as a visionary poet and artist, Blake would reference images which occurred in the passage which he illustrated in 1780: seven, golden, garment, flame of fire, feet, brass, furnace, stars, sword and the sun.

Examples of words from Revelation 1:12-16 included in Blake's poetry: 

Milton, Plate 14 [15], (E 108) 
"The Seven Angels of the Presence wept over Miltons Shadow!"
Milton, Plate 28 [30], (E 126)
"Antamon takes them into his beautiful flexible hands,
As the Sower takes the seed, or as the Artist his clay 
Or fine wax, to mould artful a model for golden ornaments,      
The soft hands of Antamon draw the indelible line:
Form immortal with golden pen;"
Milton, Plate 41 [48], (E 142)
"To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering          
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration"

Jerusalem, Plate 3, (E 145)
"Again he speaks in thunder and in fire!                
    Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:"

Jerusalem, Plate 27, (E 173)
"And thine the Human Face & thine
The Human Hands & Feet & Breath
  Entering thro' the Gates of Birth
 And passing thro' the Gates of Death"

Four Zoas, Night II, Page 35, (E 324)
"My heavens are brass my earth is iron my moon a clod of clay
My sun a pestilence burning at noon & a vapour of death in night 
What is the price of Experience do men buy it for a song"

Four Zoas, Night IV, Page 52, (E 338)
Was put to Eternal Death Los felt the Limit & saw
The Finger of God touch the Seventh furnace in terror            
And Los beheld the hand of God over his furnaces"

Four Zoas, Night II, Page 33, (E 322)
"Thus were the stars of heaven created like a golden chain
To bind the Body of Man to heaven from failing into the Abyss"  

Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 92, (E 364)
"They forgd the sword the chariot of war the battle ax
The trumpet fitted to the battle & the flute of summer 
And all the arts of life they changd into the arts of death"

Jerusalem, Plate 43 [29], (E 191)
"I come that I may find a way for my banished ones to return      
Fear not O little Flock I come! Albion shall rise again.

So saying, the mild Sun inclosd the Human Family."


Susan J. said...

"It is apropos that one of Blake's first published engravings was based upon a scripture concerning a vision."

Indeed! I love the beginning & the end of the book of Revelation, but most of the middle I really don't get. My daughter & I spent a few days on the island of Patmos, back in the day... marvelously evocative...

Thanks so much for the string of quotes -- for once I kind of get the referents!

Much love to you, dear Ellie --


ellie Clayton said...

Thanks to St John. He put the words together in one place.

We owe so much to those rare geniuses from whom we can learn so much.