William Blake

The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb


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Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Tempera on canvas mounted onto cardboard
Support: 267 × 378 mm
frame: 390 × 497 × 63 mm
Presented by Francis T. Palgrave 1884

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This tempera is very well preserved, mainly because it was painted on thin linen canvas, stuck onto thin cardboard. This is stiff enough to reduce the cracking that develops on flexible canvas. It also made it unnecessary to add the animal glue lining which has spoilt the opaque white effect of Blake's chalk preparatory layer in many temperas. As a result, Blake's delicate painted details can still be seen as he intended.

This is the only Blake tempera in this room in a frame dating from the time it was painted.  Blake may have chosen the frame design himself.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N01164 The Body of Christ Borne to the Tomb c. 1799–1800

N 01164 / B 426
Tempera on canvas, mounted on cardboard 267×378 (10 1/2×14 7/8)

Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.l.
Presented to the National Gallery by F.T. Palgrave 1884; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1934
PROVENANCE Thomas Butts; Thomas Butts jun., sold c. 1852 to F.T. Palgrave
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery (28), Manchester (21), Nottingham (14) and Edinburgh (17) 1913–14; Paris and Vienna 1937 (11); Paris, Antwerp (pl.9), Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (17); Arts Council 1951 (31, pl.7); Tate Gallery 1978 (140, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.228 no.158, and 1880, pp.240–1 no.182; Blunt in Warburg Journal, VI, 1943, p.204 n.3; Keynes Bible 1957, p.42 no.142 repr.; Blunt 1959, pp.66–7, pl.33; Robert Rosenblum, Transformations in Late Eighteenth-Century Art, 1967, pp.161–2; pl. 191; Bindman 1977, pp.124, 129, pl. 103; Butlin 1981, p.333 no.426, colour pl. 510; Essick in Blake, XVI, 1982–3, p.42, pl.20

The title given to this picture is William Rossetti's. The actual procession from Calvary is not described in the Gospels. As David Bindman points out, Joseph of Arimathea, who is seen on his own beside the bier holding a long staff, was both an archetype of the artist and, in legend, the first of Christ's followers to come to England. Robert Rosenblum suggests the influence of John Flaxman's engraving of ‘Elektra leading Procession to Agamemnon's Tomb’ published in Chöephoroe of 1795 (repr. op. cit., pl. 190).
An inscription on the mount reads ‘W. Blake Bought of Mr. Butts of Fitzroy Square - about 1852. F.T. Palgrave’.

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

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