- William Blake 1757–1827
- Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper. Verso: chalk on paper
- Support: 373 × 527 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
N 03559 / B 812 44
Recto: pencil, pen and watercolour; Verso: pencil, approx, 140×55 (5 1/2×2 1/4); on paper 373×527 (14 5/8×20 3/4)
Inscribed ‘HELL Canto 23’ in ink b.r. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘71’ t.l., ‘N38 next at p 72’ t.c. turned through a right-angle and again in centre upside down, and ‘Hell Canto 23 V 40’ upside down b.r.
Watermarked ‘WELGAR 1796’
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 As for N03551
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery (41 x), Manchester (48 x), Nottingham (42 xv) and Edinburgh (66) 1913–14; John Flaxman, Hamburg Kunsthalle (207, recto repr.), Thorwaldsens Muscum, Copenhagen (no catalogue) and RA (198, recto repr.) April–December 1979
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.219 no.101q1, and 1880, p.230 no.123q1; Blunt in Warburg Journal, VI, 1943, p.211, recto pl.62b; Roe 1953, pp.98–100 no.44, recto repr.; Blunt 1959, pp.40, 90, recto pl.61a; Klonsky 1977, p.117, recto repr.; Klonsky 1980, pp.147–8, recto repr. pl.46; Butlin 1981, pp.569–70 no.812 44; Gizzi 1983, p.124 recto repr.; Fuller in Art History 1988, p.358
The recto is an illustration to Inferno XXIII, 58–120. Virgil and Dante have just escaped from the escort of demons shown in N03558 and who are shown flying off above. Dante and Virgil are now in the sixth trench of the eighth circle, where the hypocrites, clad in leaden cloaks, file endlessly past Caiaphas who is staked to the ground in the shape of a cross. Caiaphas was the high priest who counselled that Christ should be put to death on the grounds that it was expedient that one man should die for the people rather than that the whole nation should perish. Each hypocrite steps on Caiaphas as they pass. For Blake Caiaphas embodied Natural, that is negative, religion; see Jerusalem, c.1804–18, plate 77 (Keynes Writings 1957, p.718).
The sketch on the reverse (at the bottom with the page held vertically) appears to show a figure similar to that in ‘Death's Door’, plate 15 of Four Children: The Gates of Paradise, 1793, reissued c.1818 (repr. Keynes Writings 1957, p.769). The motif was presumably taken up again by Blake for the pose of the stooping hypocrites, though there is no suggestion in this sketch of their hooded cloaks.
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990