William Blake

The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne

c.1803–5

Artist
William Blake 1757–1827
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 354 x 293 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949
Reference
N05897

Not on display

Display caption

This watercolour illustrates a passage from chapter four of the Revelation of St John the Divine. The prophet describes a vision of a heavenly throne:

before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal... round about... were four beasts full of eyes... The four and twenty elders fall down before him... and worship him that liveth for ever and ever.

The Book of Revelation is one of the most dramatic books of the Bible, and Blake was sensitive to its powerful imagery.  

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N05897 The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne c. 1803–5

N 05897 / B 515
Pencil and watercolour 354×293 (13 15/16×11 1/2)
Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.r.
Presented by the Executors of W. Graham Robertson through the National Art-Collections Fund 1949
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts jun.; Capt. F.J. Butts; his widow, sold April 1906 through Carfax to W. Graham Robertson, offered Christie's 22 July 1949 (48, repr.) £6,720 bought his executors
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (210); Carfax 1904 (19); Carfax 1906 (47); Tate Gallery (34), Manchester (34), Nottingham (22) and Edinburgh (26) 1913–14; BFAC 1927 (31, pl.24); Paris, Antwerp, Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (22); Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton 1949 (39)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.202 no.63, and 1880, p.216 no.69; Preston 1952, pp.68–9 no.17, pl. 17; Keynes Bible 1957, p.46 no.160 repr.; Keynes Letters 1968, p.117; Raine 1968, 11, pp.210–11, pl. 177; Bentley Blake Records 1969, pp.571–2; Gage in Warburg Journal, XXXIV, 1971, p.375 n.26a; Mellor 1974, p.197, pl.57; Rosenblum 1975, p.45, pl.50; Bindman 1977; pp.143, 165; Paley 1978, p.56, pl.82; Butlin 1981, p.367 no.515, colour pl.577. Also repr: Mizue, no.816, 1973, ⅔, p.20 in colour

This is an illustration to Revelation, iv, 2–11. It is listed in Blake's account with Thomas Butts of 3 March 1806, apparently as having been delivered on 12 May 1805. However for stylistic reasons it appears to have been begun rather earlier, say c. 1803; one reason for suggesting this is the less than precise technique and the use of pencil rather than pen as well as watercolour. For a preliminary sketch see A00033.

The old matt, now removed, was inscribed in pencil in the copperplate hand with traces of a title above and text below, and with the reference ‘Revns: ch:th. v. 2nd ... [erased] & ...’ b.r. In the roughly contemporary ‘Night the Ninth’ of The Four Zoas, written c.1796–1807, Blake incorporated St. John's vision of the Divine Throne into his own account of the Last Judgment (Keynes Writings 1957, p.364).


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