Citizens of “London” as Members of Christ’s Divine Body in William Blake’s Biblical Illustrations

Naomi Billingsley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


A life-long Londoner who proclaimed that Jerusalem should be ‘builded here’ and that ‘Christianity is Art,’ William Blake is a figure in whose work London, art and religion are constantly overlapping. This chapter takes as its starting point two descriptions of London in Blake’s poetic works: his 1794 poem ‘London’ in which he describes the city in which he lived in dystopian terms as a portrait of the human condition abused and oppressed, and a passage from Jerusalem (c.1804-20) which re-envisions the city as the Body of Christ. It will be argued that figures mentioned in ‘London’ as abused by the contemporary city have counterparts in Blake’s depictions of Jesus – figures who can be read as citizens of the regenerated London as the Body of Christ. Specifically, the focus will be on the crying infants and the ‘youthful harlot’ of ‘London’ whose counterparts are the figure of the Blakean child and the pseudo-Biblical Magdalen, as represented in Christ Baptizing (1805, Philadelphia Museum of Arts) and The Woman Taken in Adultery (c.1805, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), respectively. It will be argued that these two examples reflect the possibility of reading figures in Blake’s images of Jesus’ public ministry as incarnating Jesus’ Divine Body and thus as citizens of the re-envisioned London.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVisualising a Sacred City
Subtitle of host publicationLondon, Art and Religion
EditorsBen Quash, Aaron Rosen, Chloë Reddaway
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherI.B. Tauris
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781784536619
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • William Blake
  • London
  • art
  • Christianity
  • Children
  • Prostitution
  • Bible

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • John Rylands Research Institute and Library


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  • King's College London

    Naomi Billingsley (Secondee)

    Oct 2015May 2018

    Activity: External visiting positions or secondmentsVisiting an external academic institutionResearch

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