Catalogue entry

N03368 The Rock Sculptured with the Recovery of the Ark and the Annunciation 1824–7

N 03368 / B 812 80
Pencil, pen and watercolour 528×374 (20 3/4×14 11/16)
Inscribed ‘Pg Canto 10’ in pencil b.r. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘Pg Canto 12’ b.r. and ‘38’ t.r. turned through a right-angle.
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-Collection Fund 1919
PROVENANCE As for N03351

EXHIBITED Paris and Vienna 1937 (24); Tate Gallery 1947 (64)

LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, pp.221 no.102k, and 1880, p.233 no.124k; Damon 1924, p.219; Frye 1947, p.368; Roe 1953, pp.150–2 no.80, repr.; Paley 1978, p.73, pl.113; Paley in Essick and Pearce 1978, pp.172–3; Klonsky 1980, p.156, pl.83; Butlin 1981, p.581 no.812 80; Gizzi 1983, p.161 repr.; Fuller in Art History 1988, pp.357, 362

This is an illustration to Purgatorio X, 17–69; the poets have reached the first terrace on the Mountain of Purgatory and are shown looking at two of the three examples of humility described by Dante as being carved along the ledge around the Mountain. The scene of the return of the ark to Jerusalem combines two episodes, the smiting of Uzzah and Michal's scorn for her husband David (II Samuel vi, 7 and 16).
Blake adds the two angels hovering over the ark; according to Roe they probably represent the Daughters of Beulah while David represents the visionary imagination, Uzzah a narrow reliance on the law, and Michal the fallen Female Will. Beulah is Blake's half-way house, equivalent to Purgatory. Roe suggests that Blake probably picked these two particular scenes of the three to contrast two aspects of female love, the Annunciation being placed, contrary to the text, on the righthand, divine, side. The third scene, omitted by Blake, showed Trajan and the poor widow.

Fuller on the other hand denies that Blake goes beyond illustrating Dante's text even though, in his more personal works, he found negative elements in the Covering Cherub that guards the ark and appears in the Annuciation story.

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