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Blake, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

Video transcript

William Blake worked out of the mainstream. Today we might describe him as an outsider artist. He was highly trained as an engraver, but was personally a poet and a visionary. He believed he saw angels and his art was supposed to convey some of that experience of communing with the divine. Blake has taken up the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins who are going to be bridesmaids at a wedding. It’s a watercolor, and different parts have been given very fine detail, and others painted broadly and expressively. Here we see the moment where the messenger announces the bridegroom’s arrival, close to midnight. And the wise virgins are able to keep their lamps lit and go off to the wedding. The foolish ones burned up all their oil, and have to go back to town-- that rather mysterious skyline there in the background. Blake has chosen to portray the two groups in very different ways. The wise virgins on the left are clothed in beautiful, still drapery almost as though they are a phalanx of warriors. Their postures are all very similar, they look united. The ones on the right are all individual in their grief. They almost look like figures that have been taken out of a Last Judgment. Blake has used light here as a symbol. Lamps cast the figures on the left into a wonderful three-dimensionality; whereas the figures on the right are We might wonder, “Why is she being so mean?” It’s not about helping one another, it’s about building up spiritual qualities; no one can give you those. It expresses Blake’s inner life. He did not belong to the accepted artistic community of his day, yet he was able to sustain himself as a creative being throughout decades. This parable is really about the individual relationship to the divine. It took me a while to warm up to this image. I realize it has this intense emotion behind the surface. And the work asks me the question, “Which do you belong to? Are you prepared?”