Book of Job, Plate 17, The Vision of Christ by William Blake

William Blake

Book of Job, Plate 17, The Vision of Christ, 1825, Line engraving on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper, 384 x 276 mm, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1978.43.1519, Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

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Now my Eye Seeth Thee

Commentary by

In the journey of Job to new understanding, William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job concentrate on two climactic moments. In one, Blake imagines Job and his wife seeing God face to face (as the biblical quotations beneath indicate, this is God in Christ). In the other, Job prays for his friends. One climax is epistemological; the other is ethical. This is the first of them.

What we see in this image is a divine figure surrounded by a bright halo of light, stretching out both hands to bless Job’s wife and Job. The three comforters have their backs to this event, all with heads in hands, but with the central figure taking a surreptitious glimpse at the event taking place behind him. The backdrop, vaguely visible, is of mountains, with the glimmer of light coming on the right (east). In the margins there is little but a cumulus cloud outline, and at the bottom an angel presiding with eyes closed over open books and a scroll.

This is the crucial plate of his Illustrations of the Book of Job. It has as its main text Job 42:5, and encapsulates the way in which Blake reads the whole book. Here is exemplified Blake’s frequent contrast between ‘Memory’ (‘I have heard [of] thee by the hearing of the Ear’) and ‘Inspiration’ (‘but now mine Eye seeth thee’). It depicts the moment when, to quote the words of the Preface to Blake’s Milton, a Poem, ‘the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration’ (Erdman 2008: 95).

Blake’s understanding was profoundly influenced by the idea of the mutual indwelling of God and humanity, one of the central themes of the Gospel of John. This is evidenced in the profusion of Johannine quotations from the farewell discourses at the foot of the engraving. True insight comes from participation in God, as Job and his wife are bathed in Christ’s light.

Spiritual and mental transformation is incomplete, however, without ethical transformation. It is Job’s action in praying for his friends that will fully demonstrate his release from captivity.

 

References

http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3643616 [accessed 22 October 2018]

Erdman, David V. (ed.). 2008. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (Garden City: Bantam Doubleday Dell)