William Blake

The Entombment

c.1805

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 417 x 310 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949
Reference
N05896

Display caption

The white card mount for this drawing was made after Blake’s death; the embossed stamp (top left) reads ‘Turnbull’s Crayon Board’, which was not made before 1846. The mount was probably made for descendants of Blake’s patron Thomas Butts. The watercolour is ‘drum-mounted’, that is, glued along its edges to a ‘window’ cut in the board.

The smudges of gold and black paint on the mount suggest the drawing was later framed with verre églomisé: glass painted with black and gold lines on its inner face. This method, invented by the eighteenth-century French framer J-B Glomy, became popular in the mid-nineteenth century.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

N05896 The Entombment c.1805

N 05896 / B 498
Pen and watercolour 417×310 (16 7/16×12 3/16)

Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.r. and inscr. on mount ‘Luke ch: 23rd v.53rd’ b.r. and, in the copperplate hand, with the title ‘Joseph burying Jesus’ above and the text from Luke, xxiii, 53 below
Presented by the Executors of W. Graham Robertson through the National Art-Collections Fund 1949
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts jun., offered Foster's 29 June 1853 (in 124 with no.47 as ‘Christ in the Sepulchre’) £1.10.0 bt in Thomas, and Foster's 8 March 1854 (in 14 with nos.44 and 47 as ‘Christ in the Sepulchre’) 10/- bt in; Capt. F.J. Butts, offered Sotheby's 24 June 1903 (15) £305 bt in Fowler; his widow, sold April 1906 through Carfax to W. Graham Robertson, offered Christie's 22 July 1949 (35, repr.) £1,102.10.0 bt his executors
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (166); Carfax 1904 (12); Carfax 1906 (65); Cambridge 1910; ?St George's Gallery 1911 (untraced); Tate Gallery (30), Manchester (31), Nottingham (20) and Edinburgh (19) 1913–14; on loan to Tate Gallery 1923–7; BFAC 1927 (25, pl.20); British Art, RA 1934 (773; 709); Whitechapel 1934 (55); British Painting, Paris 1938 (162); Paris, Antwerp (pl.11), Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (18); Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton 1949 (7); Tate Gallery 1978 (179, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.228 no.160, and 1880, p.241 no.184; Preston 1952, pp.64–5 no.15, pl.15; Keynes Bible 1957, p.42 no.144 repr.; Blunt 1959, p.73; Bindman 1977, p.131; Butlin 1981, p.361 no.498, pl.601; Essick in Blake, XVI, 1982–3, p.42, pl.18

This is an illustration to Luke, xxiii, 53. Blake also illustrates verse 55, the arrival of the three Maries who stand in the archway at the back. The two bearded figures on the left, one kneeling, one standing, are presumably, as Essick points out, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both described as being present at Christ's tomb in John, xix, 38–39. This latter text seems to be the basis for Blake's earlier treatment of ‘The Entombment’, one of the small tempera paintings done for Thomas Butts c.1799–1800 (Butlin 1981, no.427, pl.516), in which the central figure shown at the entrance to the tomb has been identified both as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

This work is one of the series of companion watercolours of the theme of the Passion listed under no.47.


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