William Blake

Job Rebuked by his Friends

1825, reprinted 1874

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
William Blake 1757–1827
Line engraving on paper
Image: 198 × 152 mm
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the Art Fund 1919

Display caption

This is an illustration to chapter 12, verse 4 of the Book of Job: 'I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the Just upright man is laughed to scorn.' Job endures the mocking of his friends and the rebuke of his wife. Their attitude towards him reflects their impatience with Job's protestations of his innocence, despite the fact that God's punishment of him is an indication of his transgression. The other inscriptions in the margins are statements Job made to his God and which are found elsewhere in the Book of Job.

Gallery label, August 1993

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Catalogue entry

A00021 [from] Illustrations to The Book of Job: Engravings 1823–6/1874 [A00012-A00032; T05845; complete]

A 00012–32 /-
Twenty-two line engravings on india paper laid on drawing paper approx. 510×345 (20×13 1/2)
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-Collections Fund 1919
PROVENANCE John Linnell; his heirs, sold Christie's 15 March 1918 (183) £33.12.0.bt Martin for the donors
LITERATURE Gilchrist 1863, 1, pp.283–4, 297; Wicksteed 1910 and 1924; Russell Engravings 1912, 102–15 no.33: Keynes Bibliography 1921, pp.179–82 no.55: Binyon and Keynes 1935, series repr. vol.VI; Keynes Engravings 1950, pp.16–17, series repr.pls. 42–68; Keynes Writings 1957, pp.869–70, 872, 874, 876–7; S. Foster Damon, Blake's Job 1966, series repr.; Bentley Blake Records 1969, pp.234 n.i, 277–397 passim, 586–605; Andrew Wright Blake's Job: A Commentary 1972, series repr.; Lindberg 1973, pp.24–32, 40–52, 167–76, 183–352 nos.0A–21A, series repr.; Bentley Blake Books 1977, pp.517–24 no.421; Bindman Graphic Works 1978, pp.486–7 nos.625–46, series repr.; Mitchell 1978, pp.41–2; Essick Printmaker 1981, pp.92, 105, 220, 234–50, 252; Robert N. Essick, ‘Blake's Engravings to the Book of Job; An Essay on their Graphic Form with a Catalogue of their States and Printings’ in David Bindman, ed., William Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job 1987, pp.35–101.

John Linnell, who had commissioned the second set of watercolour illustrations to the Book of Job in 1821, entered into a formal agreement with Blake for the engravings on 25 March 1823: Linnell was to pay Blake £5 a plate or £100 for the set, and in addition he agreed to give Blake an extra £100 if the profits of the work made this possible. The agreement was for twenty engravings though in the event twenty-one subjects were engraved together with a title-page. On 5 March 1825 Linnell went with Blake to the printer J. Lahee to see proofs being taken. The series is dated 8 March 1825 but the final engravings do not seem actually to have been ready until the end of March 1826 (Bentley 1969, pp.277, 300 and 327). At this time 215 sets of engravings marked ‘Proof’ were issued; these should be distinguished from the working proofs, on some of which Blake tried out designs for the borders. The word ‘Proof’ was then deleted (traces can be seen on A00013) and a further 100 sets were printed on drawing paper. According to John Linnell Jr, writing to Bernard Quaritch on 6 May 1892, Linnell, after the 1826 printing, ‘put the plates away, & they were never again used after this time until the year 1874. At this time my father...had one hundred copies printed from the plates upon India paper’. Although the distinctive cover is now missing, it seems that the Tate Gallery's copies of the engravings are from this 1874 printing. The original plates were given by Herbert Linnell to the British Museum Print Room on 28 May 1919.

Each engraving is inscribed ‘W Blake inv. & sculp’. In addition each is inscribed in the lower margin with variations of the text ‘London. Published as the Act directs March 8:1825 by William Blake No3 Fountain Court Strand’; the first actual design (A00012) is mistakenly dated with the year 1828 and ‘Willm’ is sometimes substituted for ‘William’, while the punctuation is also slightly varied.

More importantly, the borders of each design bear a number of inscriptions taken from the Bible or with variations of biblical texts. These add a verbal gloss to the designs which in themselves embody Blake's critical reaction to the original story as set out in the Old Testament. The fullest analysis is in Lindberg though Wicksteed, Damon 1966 and Wright also contain full commentaries. Blake's interpretation of his text is only given in summary form in this catalogue.

These engravings were formerly inventoried as nos.3372 i–xxii. The new inventory numbers omit the title-page.

A00021 Job Rebuked by his Friends

Line engraving 198×152 (7 3/4×6); platemark 219×171 (8 5/8×6 3/4)

Inscribed ‘WBlake invenit & sculp’ b.r., ‘London Published as the Act directs March 8: 1825. by William Blake N3 Fountain Court Strand’ below, ‘10’ t.r., and with texts given below

Illustration no.10: Job, xii, 4, ‘The Just Upright Man is laughed to scorn’, Blake's main title, though the design sums up the whole encounter of Job and his friends (Job, iv-xxxi), whose rebuke is echoed more gently by his wife. The other inscriptions are taken from Job's statements to his God: ‘Man that is born of a Woman is of few days & full of trouble/he cometh up like a flower & is cut down he fleeth also as a shadow/& continueth not And dost thou open thine eyes upon such a one/& bringest me into judgment with the’ (Job, xiv, 1–3); ‘But he knoweth the way that I take when he hath tried me I shall come forth like gold’ (Job, xxiii, 10); ‘Have pity upon me! Have pity upon me! O ye my friends for the hand of God hath touched me’ (Job, xix, 21); and ‘Though he slay me yet will I trust in him’ (Job, xiii, 15).

The composition of the main design is taken, in reverse, from an earlier engraving by Blake. This is known in two states, the later of which is dated 1793 though it was probably executed considerably later (for the preliminary drawings for this engraving, and the whole problem of the dating of that group of works, see N05200; the various works are repr. together in Essick Separate Plates 1983, figs.7–11). Job's wife is however moved back to the other side of Job as in no.6 and the friends, or comforters, no longer sit passively but point accusingly at Job, each with both arms outstretched, a repeated gesture probably taken from Fuseli's ‘Three Witches’ from Macbeth (versions of 1783 onwards are repr. Blunt 1959, pl.51 b, Tomory Fuseli 1972, pl.72, and Schiff Füssli 1973, 11, pp.176 nos.733, 734 and 735). Lindberg finds a common source in Agostino Veneziano's engraving after Giulio Romano's ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’, 1531 (repr. pl.109). Blake used a similar motif for the accusers of Socrates on plate 93 of Jerusalem (repr. Blunt 1959, pl.51c; Lindberg 1973, pl.111).

Lindberg draws attention to the fact that this scene was traditionally seen as a prefiguration of the mocking of Christ.

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

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