William Blake

Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Print, ink, watercolour and varnish on paper
Support: 406 × 499 mm
frame: 625 × 710 × 50 mm
Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1948

Display caption

In the final chapter of St Luke’s gospel, two angels announce that Christ has
risen from the tomb. Later, Christ himself appears to his disciples. As Blake shows here, they are terrified, thinking that they are seeing a ghost.

Christ tries to reassure them by holding out his hands to show the wounds he received at the crucifixion, and saying ‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.’

Gallery label, February 2004

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Catalogue entry

N05875 Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection c. 1795

N 05875 / B 327

Colour print finished in ink and watercolour, varnished and trimmed 406×499 (16×19 5/8) Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1948
PROVENANCE ? Mrs Blake; ? Frederick Tatham;? Joseph Hogarth, sold Southgate's 7–30 June 1854, 17th evening (7112 as ‘Our Saviour appearing to His Disciples, in colours’) 8/- bt M. Sharp; ...; J.W. Pease, bequeathed 1901 to Miss S.H. Pease, sold Christie's 2 December 1938 (57) £75 bt. Martin for W. Graham Robertson
LITERATURE Rossetti 1903, pp.16–17; Preston 1952, pp.39–40 no.5, pl.5; Preston Letters from W.G.R. 1953, pp.400, 405–6, 424; Keynes Bible 1957, p.46 no.151a repr.; Kostelanetz in Rosenfeld 1969, pp.129–30; Keynes Blake Studies 1971, p.156; Helmstadter in Blake Studies, V, 1972–3, p.132; Mellor 1974, p.163; Bindman 1977, p.100; Paley 1978., p.37; Essick Printmaker 1980, p.134, pl.128; La Belle in Blake, XIV, 1980–1, p.81; Lindberg in Blake, XIV, 1980–1, pp.167, 173 n.48; Butlin 1981, pp.176–7 no.327, pl.418

Unlike other prints from this series in the Tate Gallery this example is not that from the Butts collection, which was mentioned in the Butts accounts of 3 March 1806 apparently as having been delivered on 7 September 1805. This had passed to J.C. Strange by 1863 and is now in the Yale University Art Gallery (Butlin 1981 no.325, colour pl.401). There is a third version of the design in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Butlin no.326, pl.417). The Tate Gallery copy is one of five designs from this series that were in the collection of J.W. Pease when he died in 1901, some or all of which were part of a larger, if not complete, set from the Tatham collection. All the Pease prints, together with one or two further examples traceable back to Tatham, have been varnished, either by Blake himself or subsequently, causing the prints to become much darker and more obscure. In addition the Tate's ‘Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection’ has been trimmed and the lower corners made up. The Tate Gallery's pull, which bears relatively little colour printing and is hardly finished at all in pen and watercolour, seems to be the last, with the Washington one first and the Yale Center one second. All seem to date from about 1795 although the Yale Center version was probably finished in pen and watercolour shortly before being delivered to Butts in 1805; it bears the ‘WB inv’ monogram common to other works of this date though only traces, if that, of a date, and it is also mounted on fine linen as were formerly the Butts prints at the Tate, though lacking the paper margins of the other Butts colour prints.

The print illustrates Luke, xxiv, 36–40, the Apostles ‘terrified and affrighted’ at Christ's appearance. Most if not all of the other prints in this series seem to be condemnatory in character, showing the divided Man in his fallen state. It is tempting therefore to see this apparently more positive scene also in a negative sense, as showing Doubting Thomas. Rossetti indeed lists this as a separate subject seen by him in the Butts collection, ‘Christ overcoming the incredulity of Thomas’, a tempera, ‘Great in the expression of speechless, unspeakable adoration in the other ten Apostles, earth bowed’ (Rossetti 1863, p.229 no.165, and 1880, p.241 no.189; Butlin no.328). This is untraced and may well be a mistake for the Yale version of the colour print. In support of this interpretation is the similarity pointed out by Helmstadter between the figure of Christ in the colour print and that in the illustration to Young's Night Thoughts, 1796–7 (Butlin no.330 265; repr. Helmstadter 1972–3, pl.5, and Erdman and Moore 1973) which is identified by him as showing Christ with St Thomas; the only important difference (possibly significant?) is that in the print Christ's left foot is forward rather than his right. David Bindman on the other hand stresses the opposition between the one young apostle who regards the risen Christ with adoration and the others who bow themselves before Him as if He were an idol. The fact that the layout of the composition resembles that of ‘The Good Farmer’ (see N05198) is probably without significance.

On the other hand the fact that the design seems to be a counterpart to ‘The House of Death’ (N05060) suggests that the meaning may be a positive one, contrasting the merciful god of the New Testament with the vengeful god of the old. Michael Tolley, in conversation in 1988, suggests that the figures looking upwards in the two compositions represent Hope and Fear respectively.

Early titles given to this design are no help. In the Butts account the design was called simply ‘Christ appearing’. What seems to be this version, though it may perhaps have been the version now in Washington, was sold with the stock of Joseph Hogarth at Southgate's in 1854 as ‘Our Saviour appearing to His Disciples’, and seems also to have been referred to by Frederick Tatham in a letter of 6 November 1862 to William Rossetti, mentioning seven prints that he had offered to ‘Mr Ferguson of Tynemouth’ some years earlier, as ‘the Saviour’. That this version is that subsequently sold from the Hogarth collection is probable in view of the likely history of the other large colour prints later in the Pease collection (see Butlin 1981, p.158).

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

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