Job and His Daughters
William Blake, 1757-1827, illustrator, editor, publisher, and printer
41.1 x 27.2 cm. (page); 21.3 x 16.7 cm. (plate)
Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania catalogue no. 1
Source: Illustrations of the Book of Job, plate 20
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Gift of Mrs. Jane Bradley in memory of Charles Bradley. 22.298
William Blake expanded the Old Testament Book of Job by illustrating selected moments in the narrative and adding relevant quotations from other Biblical texts. [continued below]
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Courtesy the Rhode Island School of Design
Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith
Satan's testing of Job's faith in God by placing him in the midst of sudden and unexplained adversity is forcefully portrayed through Blake's boldly imagined illustrations. Like the biblical account, Blake's illustrated version concludes with Job's fortunes being restored, as seen in the present illustration, "Job and His Daughters." The initials "JL" written in ink on the cover of these engraved proof sheets on handmade paper suggest that the RISD copy of Blake's Book of Job belonged to the man who commissioned the work, John Linnell. Although Blake began doing illustrations of the Book of Job ca. 1810-1818, the inclusion of text and border ornament was not part of his conception of Job until this work from the last years of his life (Wright, xv-xvi). In 1826, Linnell gave Blake £150 for the copyright and plates for the Book of Job (Blake, 779). The paper label on the cover of the RISD copy is dated 1826, further suggesting that this set was brought out under Linnell's order.
Blake invented a method of relief etching he called "illuminated printing." This, however, should not be confused with the ornamentation on the pages of his engraved Book of Job, which is printed illumination done after the manner of the hand decorations of texts found in medieval manuscripts. Blake's Job and his Songs of Innocence and Experience (cat. 23) exemplify the two styles of printed illuminated work found throughout the nineteenth century: the Job is a black and white linear design, and Songs of Innocence and Experience is a combination of line and color. However, Blake used engraved copper plates for his Job while later artists of the book used wood engravings, and Victorian color work was done by chromolithography or colored wood engraving, rather than by Blake's method of relief etching combined with hand coloring.
In his design for Job and His Daughters, Blake gave precedence to the central image, which is darker and more highly worked than the ornamental borders, yet the borders play an integral role. From Andrew Wright's catalogue of the history of the interpretation of Blake's Job, beginning with the comments of Joseph Wicksteed and S. Foster Damon in the early twentieth century, it appears that no one has traced a textual source for the significance of the grapevine and leaves ornamenting the illustration of "Job and His Daughters." The fruiting vine here probably refers to the Old Testament text, Micah 4:4. Blake had already expanded the text of Job 42:15 in his plate by including quotations from the 139th Psalm, lines 17 above the central illustration and line 8 below the central illustration. It is not surprising, therefore, that he would link a third Old Testament text to Job. One suspects Blake chose the Micah narrative because it parallels the Job pattern of punishment followed by enlightenment, peace and deliverance. The time of peace in Micah 4:4 describes every man "under his vine and under his fig tree when none shall make him afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken."
Blake's use of a grapevine motif is a good example of his skill in employing ornamentation to develop further a text and its illustration. In the center of this illustration, drawn after the manner of a medieval miniature, sits the transformed, godlike Job telling his tale to his daughters. Blake comments on the enlightened Job by means of a viny Gothic architectural bower, anchored by two instruments of peace, a lyre and a mandolin. Few artists of the book have achieved such a meaningful fusion of texts, miniatures, and ornament. Blake's book designs were known and appreciated by Victorians, including John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites; indeed, the background composition of Blake's "Job and His Daughters" finds an echo in William Holman Hunt's "Lady of Shalott" illustration (plate) for Moxon's 1857 edition of Tennyson's Poems.
Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.
Blake, William. Illustrations of the Book of Job. London, 1826.
Wright, Andrew. Blake's Job: A Commentary. London: Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1972.
Last modified 20 December 2013