Index Bibliography

Illustrations to the Book of Job, The Linnell Set

Currently Available:

Illustrations to the Book of Job, The Linnell Set, 1821 ( Multiple [3] Owners): electronic edition

Dates are the probable dates of composition.

Blake's pictorial engagements with The Book of Job extended over many decades. His first efforts were a small group of wash drawings of the mid-1780s showing Job in his misery with his wife and three friends (Butlin 162-164). Another version of this subject appears among Blake's emblem series that he sketched in his Notebook (Butlin 201.20), but the composition appearing in the wash drawings culminated in the large intaglio etching/engraving, "Job" (Essick V), which Blake listed in his advertisement To the Public of 10 October 1793. This print may have stimulated Blake's chief patron, Thomas Butts, to commission a tempera painting, Job and His Daughters (Butlin 394) c. 1799-1800 and, about six years later, a series of nineteen water colors illustrating the story of Job (Butlin 550, the so-called "Butts set"). In 1821, Blake and his new patron John Linnell borrowed the water colors from Butts. Linnell traced the series and Blake colored them (Butlin 551, the so-called "Linnell set"). Blake also added two more compositions to this later group and added versions of these same compositions to the earlier group, so that both sets now have twenty-one designs. The Linnell set led directly to his commissioning engravings. These began as a series of reduced sketches executed in 1823 (Butlin 557); the engravings themselves, with a title page added, were not finished and published until 1826.

The Linnell set of twenty-one water colors is presented here. Its joint production by Linnell and Blake and its dating are based on Linnell's journal, wherein he records that he "Traced outlines from Mr Blakes Designs from Job [the Butts set] all day" on 8 September 1821. On 10 September, he again "Traced outlines from Mr Blake's drawings of Job--all day," and "Mr Blake finishing the outlines--all day." See G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records, 2nd ed. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004) 379.

Blake follows the general outline of the story of Job in the Bible, but also incorporates into his designs many motifs representing his personal interpretation. At the beginning, Job and his family attend only to the letter, rather than the spirit, of God's laws. Job thereby falls under a false conception of God and into the hands of Satan. Job's sufferings are recorded in the first half of the series, culminating in his horrific vision of a devil-god in the eleventh design. Job's spiritual education and material restoration are pictured in the second half of the series. In the penultimate design, Job tells his story to his daughters; the entire family is restored to life in the final design. Some critics and biographers have interpreted the Job series as personal statements about Blake's own tribulations and the spiritual peace he found late in life. However appealing this approach may be, it is made questionable by the earlier dating of the Butts series, the basis for all the later works.

Related Works

Related works currently available in the William Blake Archive appear as links below. Works not currently available appear as plain text.

  • Enoch Walked with God
 Water color, c. 1780-1785. Butlin 146.
 Cincinnati Art Museum
 Cincinnati, Ohio

  • The Complaint of Job (recto); Standing Figure (verso)
    Monochrome wash drawing (recto); pencil sketch (verso), c. 1785. Butlin 163.
    Private Collection
    San Francisco, California
  • The Complaint of Job: "What is Man that Thou Shouldest Try Him Every Moment?"
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1785. Butlin 164.
    Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
    San Francisco, California
  • Job, His Wife and His Friends: The Complaint of Job (recto); Job's Wife and Other Sketches (verso)
    Monochrome wash drawing (recto); pencil sketch (verso), c. 1785. Butlin 162.
    Tate Collection at Tate Britain
  • Blake's Notebook, page 20
    Pencil sketch, c. 1790-93. Butlin 201.20.
    British Library
  • Job
    Etching/engraving, 1st state c. 1793, 2nd state c. 1820-26. Essick V.
    1st state: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England; Private Collection, London
    2nd state: Keynes Family Trust; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England; British Museum, London
  • Job's Sacrifice
    Water color, c. 1821. Butlin 552.
    City Art Gallery
    Leeds, England
  • Sketch for "Job and His Daughters"
    Pencil sketch, c. 1821. Butlin 555.
    Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art
    Washington, DC
  • Every Man also Gave Him a Piece of Money, Alternative Composition
    Water color, c. 1821-23. Butlin 553.
    Tate Collection at Tate Britain
  • Every Man also Gave Him a Piece of Money, Sketch for Alternative Composition
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1821-23. Butlin 554.
    British Museum
  • Job and His Daughters
    Water color, c. 1821-27. Butlin 556.
    Private Collection
  • The twenty-two copperplates for the Book of Job
    Copperplates, 1823-26. Bentley 421.
    British Museum, Dept. of Prints and Drawings
  • Illustrations of the Book of Job: Six Proof Engravings with Marginal Drawings
    Engravings with pencil sketches, c. 1823-26. Butlin 559.
    Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art
    Washington, DC