Job Confessing his Presumption to God who Answers from the Whirlwind | Art for Proper 24B

Job 38:1-7 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

Job Confessing his Presumption to God who Answers from the Whirlwind
Job Confessing his Presumption to God who Answers from the Whirlwind
William Blake 1757-1827
Pen, ink and watercolour over pencil on paper, 393 x 330 mm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

In his youth, William Blake studied engraving and attended briefly the Royal Academy in London but his art did not reflect the academic teachings of his day. Instead, the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was Blake’s early interest and the influence of other historical sources was minimal. Unlike the landscape paintings of his contemporaries, Blake’s images came from within. He spoke of visits from heavenly beings and his work often is referred to as visionary. Even when we are unsure of what is being depicted, we become engaged usually by his provocative imagery.

The setting for the illustration of God answering from the whirlwind is at a time when it seemed nothing more could be done to further the anguish and discomfort of Job. All of his livestock was stolen, his thousands of sheep perished in a fire, a strong wind destroyed his house and killed his ten children, he was covered with sores, and his wife ridiculed him. His friends thought this was all brought on by his sins and advised him to confess. Job insisted adamantly that he had done no wrong and had, in fact, adhered to all of the teachings of God. At this time he had nothing more to lose and demanded answers from God regarding the cause of his losses and suffering. God came to him and spoke from a whirlwind. Instead of revealing reasons for the suffering endured by Job, however, God responded with profound questions on subjects ranging from the marvels of the creation to the wonderment of the earth and the heavens. As God brought attention to these things, Job came to realize how little he understood of the infinite differences between God’s realm and his. After God spoke, Job’s health, possessions, and family were restored.

Blake admired the work of Michelangelo and, in “Job Confessing,” a bearded God has similarities to the image of God in the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Adam.” Blake’s image, however, is lighter and much less physical in its appearance. There is a dream-like effect in the whirlwind that is formed by angels swirling around God and swooping down as they speed past Job and go on to move across the land. Job is kneeling and looking up with fingers spread in a state of awe. His wife and friends are overwhelmed and frightened as they bow down on the ground near him.


During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century there was a reaction to the impersonal intellectualism that tended to be part of neoclassicism. To the romanticists, feelings were important and their work often was imbued with emotional and dramatic content. Although Blake’s work was not part of the mainstream of art, it was part of the romantic tendencies of his time.

The Book of Job was of longstanding interest to Blake and he returned to it regularly. Twenty years after creating, “Job Confessing His Presumption to God who Answers from the Whirlwind,” he again took up the theme and made twenty-two illustrations on subjects based solely on the Book of Job.

Blake was not only a visual artist he also was a very gifted poet and writer. His poems, such as The Tiger, [“Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night…”] are widely known.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Proper 22 Art for October 7, 2012

DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Job and His Wife
c. 1504
Oil on panel, 94 x 51 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Job and His Wife, c. 1504, Oil on Panel, Albrecht Durer, (1471-1528)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 22 Art for October 7, 2012

Job was a very righteous man with great herds of livestock and incalculable wealth. Satan suggested, however, that Job’s piety may not be as strong as it seemed if all his worldly possessions were destroyed. Would he not curse God if he were to lose everything? Job was put to the test. His oxen, donkeys, and camels numbering in the thousands were stolen and fire destroyed his 7,000 sheep. A mighty wind from the desert caused his house to collapse and his ten children were killed, but Job remained steadfast. He did not curse God. He shaved his head, tore off his clothes and said “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; Lord has given, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Next came physical suffering and ridicule from his wife. Friends came to console him but they thought the terrible occurrences were the result of sin. They urged him to confess. God intervened finally and returned Job to good health; his livestock was restored to even greater numbers and he had a new family.

This painting of Job’s suffering was commissioned by Frederick the Wise (Frederick III, Elector of Saxony); a Protestant and a strong supporter of Martin Luther. Memories of sweeping epidemics such as the Bubonic Plague were fearful to him as was a new threat, syphilis. He commissioned several artists to deal with the theme of suffering. Durer’s painting depicts the flames (upper left) that destroyed his servants and sheep, and in the foreground, Job is shown physically overcome and spiritually downcast. The weight of his head is being supported by his arm as he sits overwhelmed and without clothes. His wife (in a typical Nuremberg dress of the early sixteenth century) has no sympathy for him and pours a bucket of water on his neck. Her suggestion was that Job should curse God and die.

Scholars believe Albrecht Durer’s painting, Job and His Wife, was part of a larger panel; possibly a diptych or even a triptych. It also has been suggested this painting is the left side of a larger painting that was cut in half. It is agreed that another panel containing two musicians was part of the original. The fact that the background landscape of both paintings and a portion of Job’s wife’s dress line up with each other when placed side by side support the belief they were once together as one.

In the section that was separated from this scene, two musicians – a flute player and drummer – are standing nearby playing to Job. Music, it was believed, was soothing to sufferers of melancholia in particular and it was prescribed by healers. While studying in Venice, Durer was familiar with street minstrels in colorful clothes and he added them to this painting to provide comfort to Job.


The Book of Job was selected by renowned authors to be listed among the world’s hundred greatest books.

Frederick the Wise was a collector of relics. In his castle church he had over 17,000 purported relics; included in his collection were five pieces of the true cross, parts of the holy cradle, swaddling clothes, a piece of Moses’ burning bush, and even milk from the Virgin Mary.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

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