Luke 18:2 “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Parable of the Unjust Judge, wood engraving, 1863, John Everett Millais, 1829-1896
In France – from the latter part of the eighteenth to beyond mid-nineteenth century – Neoclassicism was the style of art perpetuated by the state sponsored French Academy and its influence was widespread. Romanticism rose in opposition to it and had far reaching influence as well. England, however, tended to be independent and had its prestigious Royal Academy of Art; it was not easily swayed by outside styles.
Instead of falling in line with accepted mid-nineteenth century academic styles, seven young English painters of similar interests – led by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – organized a secret society and called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was their belief that false ideals had artificiality entered art during the Renaissance. As the term, “Pre-Raphaelite” implies, they proposed starting anew by going back to a time before Raphael – to the Middle Ages. One of Millais’s paintings from this period, “Christ at the Home of His Parents,” caused a scandal because the Holy Family was not represented regally as it would have been in a classical Renaissance painting. Instead, Millais depicted a working class family with Christ (as a boy) in his father’s messy carpentry workshop. After his youthful efforts, Millais withdrew from the brotherhood and became an academic painter; his critics accused him of “selling out” for financial gain. In time, he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Art and later became its president.
Among Millais’ noted works was a series of drawings illustrating Christ’s parables. These drawings were reproduced as wood engravings by the acclaimed Dalziel brothers and published in 1864 as “Parables of our Lord.” Although some parables are difficult to translate into pictorial form, Millais’ “Parable of the Unjust Judge” is what we might imagine the scene to have been like. In this story, a poor widow desires justice but the judge hearing her case is not sympathetic or compassionate. Millais has placed the widow on the floor in front of the judge (seated with ankles crossed) on his cushioned, throne-like chair; an attendant stands by with a fan to contribute to his comfort. The widow is persistent as she leans forward over the judge’s legs and pleads with him while a guard with an arm on either side of the woman is trying to restrain her. The judge seems to regard her as a pest – he turns his face with a look of superior disdain and keeps her at bay with his right arm. His open left hand is in front of his face in a gesture that seems to be saying, “Enough already!” The man peering over the chair and the man standing at the judge’s immediate right are finding the widow’s appeal to be amusing. The scribe, however, seems sympathetic as he lifts his pen momentarily and looks up at the widow. The widow’s persistence paid off and her petition was granted.
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.
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.