|Detail of the Crucifixion of St. Peter |
by Michelangelo in the Cappella Paolina.
When Blake was a young apprentice just learning his trade of engraving he choose as his subject an image from a figure by Michelangelo. Blake was familiar with the work of Michelangelo through prints which he studied to become familiar with the great art of the past. A small portion of a fresco in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican presented an image of a powerful but pensive man caught in the crowd gathered around the crucifixion of Peter. The craft of engraving requires the artist to intensely concentrate his focus on the image he is engraving . Michelangelo's figure became to Blake more than just a picture. It became Joseph of Arimathea, if became William Blake, it became everyman, it became Albion.
Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albionc. 1810
The legend tells of Joseph founding Christianity in England at Glastonbury in Cornwall. It is events in this tale which led to Blake's writing the lines:
"And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!"
Blake did not forget the image which he had made when an apprentice to Basire. He returned to it years later reengraved it with additional detail and words to explain what it meant to him. The image tied him to Joseph of Arimathea, to Jesus, to Michelangelo and to the restored Albion which incorporated the idea of Jerusalem being built in England's green and pleasant land.
Harold Bloom commenting on The Everlasting Gospel, (E 876):
"But in the 1818 fragment the drama remains the static threefold scene: Christ and Lucifer arguing their opposite views before "Me" (Every man, or Joseph of Arimathea, or Blake)."
Inscriptions, (E 671) "JOSEPH of Arimathea among The Rocks of Albion Engraved by W Blake 1773 from an old Italian Drawing This is One of the Gothic Artists who Built the Cathedrals in what we call the Dark Ages Wandering about in sheep skins & goat skins of whom the World was not worthy such were the Christians in all Ages Michael Angelo Pinxit" Inscriptions, (E 671) [on a proof of the early state of the plate] "Engraved when I was a beginner at Basires from a drawing by Salviati after Michael Angelo"
Four Zoas, Night VIII, Page 110 , (E 379) "Thus was the Lamb of God condemnd to Death They naild him upon the tree of Mystery weeping over him And then mocking & then worshipping calling him Lord & King Sometimes as twelve daughters lovely & sometimes as five They stood in beaming beauty & sometimes as one even Rahab Who is Mystery Babylon the Great the Mother of Harlots Jerusalem saw the Body dead upon the Cross She fled away Saying Is this Eternal Death Where shall I hide from Death Pity me Los pity me Urizen & let us build A Sepulcher & worship Death in fear while yet we live Death! God of All from whom we rise to whom we all return And Let all Nations of the Earth worship at the Sepulcher With Gifts & Spices with lamps rich embossd jewels & gold Los took the Body from the Cross Jerusalem weeping over They bore it to the Sepulcher which Los had hewn in the rock Of Eternity for himself he hewd it despairing of Life Eternal" Four Zoas, Night VIII, PAGE 103, (E 375) "The sorrower of Eternity in love with tears submiss I rear My Eyes to thy Pavilions hear my prayer for Luvahs sake I see the murderer of my Luvah clothd in robes of blood He who assured my Luvahs throne in times of Everlasting Where hast thou hid him whom I love in what remote Abyss Resides that God of my delight O might my eyes behold My Luvah then could I deliver all the sons of God From Bondage of these terrors & with influences sweet As once in those eternal fields in brotherhood & Love United we should live in bliss as those who sinned not The Eternal Man is seald by thee never to be deliverd We are all servants to thy will O King of Light relent Thy furious power be our father & our loved King But if my Luvah is no more If thou hast smitten him And laid him in the Sepulcher Or if thou wilt revenge His murder on another Silent I bow with dread But happiness can never [come] to thee O King nor me For he was source of every joy that this mysterious tree Unfolds in Allegoric fruit. When shall the dead revive Can that which has existed cease or can love & life Expire"
 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
 And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.