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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