The Visual Christology of William Blake

  • Naomi Billingsley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is an examination of Blake’s images of Christ and a study of his theology of art. My central premise is that these two topics are to be viewed simultaneously: that is, I argue that Blake’s visualisation of Christ is an expression of his theology of art. Moreover, I contend that through his art, Blake seeks to emulate the spirit of Jesus’ life and ministry in order to engender a community of Imagination which is the Divine Body of Jesus. Through a series of case studies focusing on Blake’s depictions of different aspects of Christ’s life, this thesis examines how Blake uses images to express his Christology and his theology of art.In Part I, I set out Blake’s Christological cosmology in three chapters which deal with beginnings in Christ’s life. Chapter 1 examines Christ as Creator; here, Christ inhabits a role traditionally associated with the Father, demonstrating the pre-eminence of Christ in Blake’s concept of God, and the divinity of his Creation. Chapter 2 focuses on the advent, birth and infancy of Christ; Blake depicts the Nativity as the birth of Vision, emblematic of the individual embodying that state. Chapter 3 discusses the inauguration of Christ’s ministry, the Baptism and Temptations; in these subjects, Blake represents Christ as immanent in the world, making it a place of Imagination and Vision, and the individual must learn to see it as such.Part II is concerned with Blake’s idea of art as apocalypse, and of Christ as the supreme type of the artist – the state which every individual should embody and which Blake seeks to engender through his works. Chapter 4 focuses on the Crucifixion, a subject with which Blake had difficulty owing to his objection to the doctrine of the Atonement but which he came to view as an emblem of the individual sacrificing his/her self-hood in order to realise his/her true identity in the Human Form Divine. Chapter 5 examines the Transfiguration, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, exploring how Blake used these moments of transition between states in the life of Christ as types of the individual’s transformation, and how these images seek to engender that process via a viewer- response aesthetic. Chapter 6 explores traditional apocalyptic subjects, in which, I argue, Christ is depicted as agent of artistic apocalypse, which for Blake consists of expunging error and embracing truth. Chapter 7 discusses Christ-like figures in Blake’s depictions of Jesus’ public ministry who embody the ideal state of imagination identified with Christ in the foregoing chapters, and thus act as members of Christ’s Divine Body and as types for the individual’s realisation of that state. I conclude with a discussion of the painting An Allegory of the Spiritual Condition of Man (1811?) which, I argue, encapsulates the central themes of this thesis.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorColin Trodd (Supervisor) & Jeremy Gregory (Supervisor)


  • William Blake
  • British Art
  • Romanticism
  • Jesus Christ
  • Religious Art
  • The Bible in Art

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