William Blake

The Crucifixion: ‘Behold Thy Mother’


Not on display

William Blake 1757–1827
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 413 × 300 mm
frame: 665 × 552 × 41 mm
Presented by the executors of W. Graham Robertson through the Art Fund 1949

Display caption

Blake often treated subjects from Jerusalem’s history. Christian thought is centred on Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary outside the city, when he died to redeem mankind. His cross, his resurrection and return to earth three days after his death are central to Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection of the Soldiers altarpiece at Sandham; sketches for this are shown in the display case to your left.

Spencer believed that the soldiers had a ‘perfect understanding’ of the sacrifice they had to make. This suggests that both Blake’s ‘Mental Fight’ to build the Jerusalem of peace in England, and the soldiers’ physical fight are equally valid.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

N05895 The Crucifixion: ‘Behold Thy Mother’ c.1805

N 05895 / B 497
Pen and watercolour 413×300 (16 3/4×11 3/8)
Signed ‘WB inv’ in monogram b.l.
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 (in 124 with no.48, as ‘The Crucifixion’) £1.10.0 bt in Thomas, and Foster's 8 March 1854 (in 14 with nos.44 and 48 as ‘The Crucifixion’) 10/- bt in; capt. F.J. Butts; his widow, sold April 1906 through Carfax to W. Graham Robertson, offered Christie's 22 July 1949 (34, repr.) £1,155 bt his executors
EXHIBITED BFAC 1876 (71); Carfax 1906 (43); Tate Gallery (27) and Manchester (29) 1913–14; BFAC 1927 (24, pl.19); Paris, Antwerp, Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (16); Bournemouth, Southampton and Brighton 1949 (37); Tate Gallery 1978 (178, repr.)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.228 no.157, and 1880, p.240 no.181; Preston 1952, pp.62–3 no.14, pl.14; Keynes Bible 1957, p.42 no.141 repr.; Butlin 1981, pp.360–1 no.497, pl.600; Warner 1984, pp.88–91

This is an illustration to John, xix, 26–7; the old matt bore slight traces of an inscription in a copperplate hand. Christ commends the Virgin to the care of his favourite disciple, St John. The title used by William Rossetti, ‘Christ taking leave of His Mother’, is misleading in that this usually refers to the incident earlier in Christ's life when He first leaves home.

David Bindman has pointed out that this watercolour seems to belong to a distinct sub-group within the large series of Biblical watercolours painted for Thomas Butts. Similar in their size and upright format, near-symmetrical composition and dark near-monochromatic colouring, they are all of subjects associated with the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Other examples include ‘The Entombment’ (N05896), ‘Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels’ and ‘The Angel Rolling the Stone from the Sepulchre’ in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Butlin 1981, nos.500 and 501, pl.603 and colour pl.572), ‘The Resurrection’ in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Mass. (Butlin no.502, colour pl.573) and ‘The Magdalene at the Sepulchre’ in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven, Conn. (Butlin no.504, pl.604). ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ (see N05199), a prefiguration of the Resurrection, may also be one of this group. For further works rather more doubtfully identified with this group see Butlin, loc. cit.

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

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