William Blake

Plutus

1824–7

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 527 x 371 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Reference
N03355

Display caption

In Dante’s text Plutus, the god of riches, guards the souls of the avaricious. Evoking a belief commonly held at the time that the Jewish race was characterised by an unscrupulous desire for wealth, Blake’s figure has features that recall 18th-century images of Jews.

Anti-Semitism permeated Lavater’s system of physiognomy, and was influenced by his personal interpretation of the Christian faith. At one stage Lavater argued that in order to achieve a higher level of existence, Jews must convert to Christianity, after which their features would begin to shed their Jewish characteristics.

Gallery label, March 2011

Catalogue entry

N03355 Plutus 1824–7 [A00005-A00011; N03351-N03370; T01950-T01956; complete]

N 03355 / B 812 14
Pencil, pen and watercolour 527×371 (20 3/4×14 5/8)
Inscribed ‘Money’ in pencil on sack b.l. and, on reverse in pencil, with page upside down, ‘93’ t.l.
Watermarked ‘WE’
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the National Art-Collections Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art-Collections Fund 1919
PROVENANCE As for N03351
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery 1942 (62); National Art-Collections Fund: Sixty Years of Patronage, Arts Council, September–October 1965 (35)

LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.217 no.101n, and 1880, p.228 no.123n; Roe 1953, pp.68–9 no.14, repr.; Klonsky 1980, p.140, pl.14: Butlin 1981, p.560 no.812 14; Gizzi 1983, p.92 repr.; Fuller in Art History 1988, p.365

This is an illustration to Inferno VI, 113–15, and VII, 1–12. Plutus, the God of Wealth, guards the edge of the fourth Circle, that of the Avaricious, clutching his money-sack. Dante blurred the distinction between Plutus and Pluto, the God of the Underworld.

As Klonsky points out, Blake had attacked money in one of the inscriptions on his engraving of ‘The Laocoön’ of c.1820 (repr. Bindman Graphic Works 1978, pl.623, and Essick Separate Plates 1983, pl.51): ‘Where any view of Money exists Art cannot be carried on, but War only’.


Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990