William Blake, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-1803). Watercolor, with pen, in gray ink, black ink and graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection, Everett V. Meeks, B.A. 1901 Fund.
In an ‘Image of the Month’ in February, I wrote about Blake’s watercolour Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre (c.1805). In this post, I’m jumping back a bit to another of Blake’s watercolour illustrations to the Bible, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-03), which depicts a moment slightly earlier in the biblical narrative, and was probably also produced several years earlier (the exact dates of these works are not known, but they have been assigned dates based on stylistic features).
The text illustrated is Matthew 27:66 which describes the sealing of Jesus’ tomb on the day after his death and burial. The chief priests and Pharisees had heard Jesus say that he would rise again on the third day, and they feared that the disciples would try to take away the body to fabricate a resurrection. They therefore asked Pilate to secure the tomb, so he sent a watch and instructed them make the tomb as sure as they could (27:62-65).
In Blake’s illustration, the task is being undertaken very diligently. At the centre of the design is a young man balancing on a ladder, holding a palette of cement and a knife. He is turning to his right, directed by a priest standing below who appears to be pointing out a gap in the cement for the young man to seal. There are two more priests to the left of the ladder, and five soldiers are standing guard.
This is a relatively unusual subject, which is perhaps unsurprising; illustrators of the New Testament have tended to focus on the acts of Jesus and his disciples, not on those of Jesus enemies. We cannot be certain whether the subject was chosen by Blake or by his patron, Thomas Butts; either way, its inclusion in the series of biblical illustrations emphasises that the tomb was firmly shut. Thus, when Blake added The Angels Hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre (c.1805, V&A) to the series, he was giving the viewer privileged access to a scene inside the firmly-sealed tomb, and then in The Angel Rolling Away the Stone from the Sepulchre (c.1805, V&A) and The Resurrection (c.1805, Fogg Art Museum), Blake depicts Christ bursting that seal.
As a stand-alone design the subject may not have obvious appeal, but in a series of illustrations to the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch plays a key role.
Naomi Billingsley (Manchester)
Pingback: Image of the Month: William Blake, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-1803). | Uncategorized | Aggregated blogs on Romantic Studies - please click through to read full posts.
Reblogged this on in tortures of Doubt & Despair.