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James Hervey (1714-58) was a writer of devotional texts. His popular Meditations Among the Tombs was published in 1746 and it was often reprinted. The subject of the book is death, and the author dwells particularly on the grief caused by early death, and on the eventual re-uniting of the parted in heaven. Hervey, his back to the viewer, is seen in the foreground of the picture. At the foot of the stair which winds heavenward to God, sits a widow with the bodies of her husband and children. Inscriptions beside the other figures help to explain the narrative.The design of this complex arrangement is similar to that of the celebrated painting of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel in Rome by Michelango, an artist Blake admired.

August 2004