This watercolor may be seen in relation the very first lines of the poem in which the narrator introduces himself and defines his role as a guide through the landscape of the Grave.
Whilst some affect the sun, and some the shade,
Some flee the city, some the hermitage;
Their aims as various as the roads they take
In journeying through life; the task be mine
To paint the gloomy horrors of the tomb;
Th’ appointed place of rendezvous, where all
These trav’llers meet. Thy succours I implore,
Eternal King! whose potent arm sustains
The keys of hell and death. The Grave, dread thing! (p.1)
Christ, as Blake depicts him, also is a guide, leading us into the grave and into The Grave. He is shown descending a staircase into flames with the keys to hell and to death in his hands. This is not the traditional rendering of Christ descending into hell, holding the banner of the resurrection, but Christ as described in Revelations I:18: I am living for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and hell.1 He is both savior and guide, who protects the author on his journey – a frightening journey describing the gloomy horrors of the grave. In Blake’s personal iconography He is also the divine imagination, inspiring Blair and Blake as he inspired John the Evangelist to write Revelations.2
This is not the angry, judging Christ but a benign, restrained figure. But despite the well-muscled body, there is a distinctly feminine quality to the figure, due to the wide-eyed rather pretty face, and the long, flowing robe that is tied just below his breast. Blake was apparently inspired by Revelations for this robe: …clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle (Revelations I:13), and he used it frequently in portraying Christ.
There are a number of similar representations in a series of watercolors illustrating the Bible that he made for his patron Thomas Butts. Typical works include Christ Girding Himself with Strength (Butlin 464, pl. 551), The Hymn of Christ and the Apostles (Butlin 490, pl. 546) and The Magdalen at the Sepulchre (Butlin 504, pl. 604).
A drawing in the British Museum (Butlin 621recto, pl. 854), has often been described as a sketch for this composition, but the subject seems to be quite different. In the London drawing Christ opens his cloak with one hand and shows the other palm outward, displaying His stigmata, rather than carrying the keys of hell and death, as in this illustration to The Grave.
1 Essick and Paley, p.56.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale