William Blake
Plutus 1824–7

Artwork details

William Blake 1757–1827
Date 1824–7
Medium Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 527 x 371 mm
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
On display at Tate Britain

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.

March 2011

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