William Blake

Satan in his Original Glory: ‘Thou wast Perfect till Iniquity was Found in Thee’


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 429 × 339 mm
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949

Display caption

This watercolour shows Satan as he once was, a perfect part of God’s creation, before his fall from grace. His orb and sceptre symbolise his role as Prince of this World. It is also an extreme example of the damaging effects of over-exposure to light. The sky was originally an intense blue, now only visible at the lower right edge. The only colours which have survived unaltered are the vermilion red Blake used for the flesh, and red ochre in Satan’s wings. The paper has yellowed considerably. There is no evidence left of any yellow gamboge or pinkish red lakes.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N05892 Satan in his Original Glory: ‘Thou wast Perfect till Iniquity was Found in Thee’ c.1805

N 05892 / B 469
Pen and watercolour 429×339 (16 1/2×13 3/8)

Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.r. and inscr. on old mount, now replaced, with a damaged copperplate inscription in pencil with the title ‘Thou wast perfect...’ above, the reference Ezekiel ch.28th v.13th & ... &c' b.r. and with part of the text from Ezekiel, xxviii, 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 (103) 11/- bt in Thomas, and Foster's 8 March 1854 (in 14 with nos.47 and 48) 10/- bt in; Capt. F.J. Butts; his widow, sold April 1906 through Carfax to W. Graham Robertson, offered Christie's 22 July 1949 (23, repr.) £1,260 bt his executors
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (170); Carfax 1906 (36); Cambridge 1910; Tate Gallery (16) and Manchester (14) 1913–14; BFAC 1927 (10, pl.10); Paris, Antwerp, Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (11); Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton 1949 (9); The Devil in Figurative Art Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, June–September 1952; English Drawings and Water Colours from British Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Metropolitan Museum, New York, February–June 1962 (2); Whitworth 1969 (32, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.330 no.181 and p.255 list 3 no.13, and 1880, p.243 no.205 and p.275 list 3 no.13; Preston 1952, pp.60–1 no.13, pl.13; Digby 1957, pp.15–17, pl.23; Keynes Bible 1957, p.26 no.82 repr.; Beer 1968, pp.195, 257, pl.44; Raine 1968, 11, p.222, pl.179; Bindman 1977, p.142; Butlin 1981, p.350 no.469, pl.554; Warner 1984, pp.5, 197 n.15, pl.3

This is an illustration to Ezekiel, xxviii, 14–15. The text refers to ‘The Prince of Tyre’ but has been read as a general reference to Satan. Blake makes this equation in Millon, dated 1804 but written and etched c.1803–10, echoing the Prince of Tyre's ‘I am God’ (plate 9, line 25; Keynes Writings 1957, p.490). Blake shows Satan in his original beauty as the covering Cherub of the Biblical text and personifies the precious stones and musical instruments with which he was endowed in the Garden of Eden, but Blake adds the orb and sceptre, symbols of Satan's role as Prince of this World. Janet Warner notes the probable derivation of the figure of Satan from the Apollo in Vincenzo Cartari's emblem book Imagini delli Dei gl' Antichi of 1556; the linking of Satan and Apollo is perhaps a meaningful one.

Rossetti seems to have been confused by the two titles under which this watercolour has been known. His first reference, in both 1863 and 1880, is under the title ‘Thou wast perfect till iniquity was found in thee - Ezek. xxviii. 15’, reflecting the inscription that he would have seen on the matt when he examined Captain Butts's collection. The second reference, in his List 3, ‘Works of Unascertained Method’, is by the title under which the watercolour was offered at Foster's in 1853, ‘Satan in his Former Glory’, as belonging to ‘Mr. Thomas from Mr. Butts’.

The blue washes that have faded from much of the background can be seen at the bottom where they were covered by the old mount.

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

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