The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of an electronic edition of 20 of Blake’s water color illustrations to the Bible. They are presented in a new category in the Archive’s main Table of Contents, “Illustrations to the Bible, c. 1780-1824,” under Drawings and Paintings, Water Color Drawings. These designs illustrate the Old Testament and are arranged according to the passages illustrated. They are presented in our Preview mode, one that provides all the features of the Archive except Image Search and Inote (which provides detailed descriptions of Blake’s images).

The Bible had an enormous influence on Blake’s work as both artist and poet. Among his many and complex responses to that text are water color drawings. The present group of 20 is selected from a sequence of about 80 biblical water colors of similar size that Blake painted for Thomas Butts between c. 1800 and c. 1806. These designs emphasize interactions between the human and the divine. In works such as Ezekiel’s Wheels and David Delivered Out of Many Waters, the interaction is revelatory or redemptive. In other designs, including Pestilence: The Death of the First-Born, the relationship between God and humankind devolves into punishment and destruction.

Pestilence: The Death of the First-Born (Butlin 442)

This group of water colors is the first installment in our publication of a large selection of Blake’s water color drawings illustrating the Bible. In coming months we will publish a group of New Testament illustrations also from the series executed for Butts. Later we will add early works, such as Abraham and Isaac, datable to c. 1780, and continue through Blake’s final biblical water colors, including Moses Placed in the Ark of the Bulrushes of c. 1824.

As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.

Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors

Ashley Reed, project manager

William Shaw, technical editor
The William Blake Archive