Christ in the Sepulcher Guarded by Angels
From The Cabinet Gallery of Pictures by Allan Cunningham, Page 12:
"Blake, who always saw in fancy every form he drew, believed that angels descended to painters of old, and sat for their portraits. When he himself sat to Phillips for that fine portrait so beautifully engraved by Schiavonetti, the painter, in order to obtain the most unaffected attitude, and the most poetic expression, engaged his sitter in a conversation concerning the sublime in art. “We hear much,” said Phillips, “ of the grandeur of Michael Angelo; from the engravings, I should say he has been over-rated; he could not paint an angel so well as Raphael.” “He has not been over-rated, Sir,” said Blake, “and he could paint an angel better than Raphael.” “Well, but” said the other, “you never saw any of the paintings of Michael Angelo; and perhaps speak from the opinions of others; your friends may have deceived you.” “I never saw any of the paintings of Michael Angelo,” replied Blake, “but I speak from the opinion of a friend who could not be mistaken.” “A valuable friend truly,” said Phillips, “ and who may he be I pray?” “The arch-angel Gabriel, Sir,” answered Blake. “A good authority surely, but you know evil spirits love to assume the looks of good ones; and this may have been done to mislead you.”
“Well now, Sir,” said Blake “this is really singular; such were my own suspicions; but they were soon removed—I will tell you how. I was one day reading Young's Night Thoughts, and when I came to that passage which asks ‘who can paint an angel,” I closed the book and cried, “Aye! who can paint an angel?" A voice in the room answered, “Michael Angelo could.” “And how do you know,” I said, looking round me, but I saw nothing save a greater light than usual. “I know,” said the voice, “for I sat to him : I am the archangel Gabriel.” “Oho!” I answered, “you are, are you: I must have better, assurance than that of a wandering voice; you may be an evil spirit—there are such in the land.” “You shall have good assurance,” said the voice, “can an evil spirit do this " “I looked whence the voice came, and was then aware of a shining shape, with bright wings, who diffused much light. As I looked, the shape dilated more and more : he waved his hands; the roof of my study opened; he ascended into heaven; he stood in the sun and beckoning to me, moved the universe. An angel of evil could not have done that - it was the arch-angel Gabriel.
The painter marvelled much at this wild story; but he caught from Blake's looks, as he related it, that rapt poetic expression which has rendered his portrait one of the finest of the English school."
This account by Blake of being in the presence of and conversing with an angel is included in Allan Cunningham's book The Cabinet Gallery of Pictures. When Blake created images of Angels he captured some of the ethereal quality which he described to Phillips when he was sitting for the painting of his portrait. Having had vivid experiences of angelic visions, Blake communicated the Eternal Realities of the Spiritual World convincingly.
Songs of Innocence, Plate 20, (E 13)
The sun descending in the west.
The evening star does shine.
The birds are silent in their nest,
And I must seek for mine,
The moon like a flower,
In heavens high bower;
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.
Farewell green fields and happy groves,
Where flocks have took delight;
Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves
The feet of angels bright;
Unseen they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.
They look in every thoughtless nest,
Where birds are coverd warm;
They visit caves of every beast,
To keep them all from harm;
If they see any weeping,
That should have been sleeping
They pour sleep on their head
And sit down by their bed."
Letters (E 701)
"I find more & more that my Style of Designing is a Species
by itself. & in this which I send you have been compelld by my
Genius or Angel to follow where he led if I were to act otherwise
it would not fulfill the purpose for which alone I live. which is
in conjunction with such men as my friend Cumberland to renew the
lost Art of the Greeks"