N05193 Christ in the Carpenter's Shop: The Humility of the Saviour
Pencil and watercolour 330×335 (13×13 1/2) on paper 485×355 (19 1/2×14)
Bequeathed by Miss Alice G.E. Carthew 1940
PROVENANCE ?Carfax and Co. by 1906; Miss Carthew, ?after 1914
EXHIBITED ?Carfax 1906 (41); ? Manchester (23), Nottingham (16) and Edinburgh (10) 1914
LITERATURE Gage in Warburg Journal, XXXIV, 1971, p.376; Butlin 1981, pp.352–3 under no.474
This is a late 19th- or early 20th-century copy after the watercolour painted for Thomas Butts and now in the Walsall Museum and Art Gallery (Garman-Ryan Collection), Staffordshire (Butlin 1981, no.474, pl.558). The matt of the original bears, in the copperplate hand, the title ‘The Humility of the Saviour’, a reference to ‘Luke ch: 2nd v.51st’ and the text from Luke, ii, 51. The text in fact merely states ‘And He [Christ] went down with them [his parents], and came to Nazareth...’ without mentioning the later legend of the Carpenter's Shop.
Blake shows Christ with a set-square and compasses, symbols of rational knowledge, instead of the traditional carpenter's tools. The compasses or dividers link this watercolour with the symbolism of the frontispiece to Europe, the famous ‘Ancient of Days’ (repr. Erdman Illuminated Blake 1974, p.156) and the ‘Newton’ colour print (N05058, q.v.). Although such symbolism usually has a negative connotation in Blake's works, Blunt suggests that in this case the interpretation could be a positive one, the dividers now representing the synthesis of reason with the imagination under the new dispensation of Christ. However Gage more convincingly stresses their divisive function, pointing to a passage in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, c. 1790–93, where Blake writes that ‘Jesus Christ did not wish to unite but to seperate [sic] them’ - the Prolific and Devouring aspects of Man (Keynes Writings 1957, p.155; the imagery recurs earlier in the same book when Blake states that ‘in Milton... the Son [is] a Ratio of the five senses’, Keynes op. cit., p.150). The design can also be compared with one of the illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts 1796–7 (Butlin no.330 360, repr. Erdman Night Thoughts 1980). This shows Reason instructing Youth and again includes a geometrical design being set out with the aid of compasses.
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990