The Ancient of Days
The Ancient of Days is a design by William Blake, originally published as the frontispiece to a 1794 work, Europe a Prophecy. It shows Urizen crouching in a circular design with a cloud-like background. His outstretched hand holds a compass over the darker void below. Related imagery appears in Blake's Newton, completed the next year. As noted in Gilchrist's Life of William Blake, the design of The Ancient of Days was "a singular favourite with Blake and as one it was always a happiness to him to copy." As such there are many versions of the work extant, including one completed for Frederick Tatham only weeks before Blake's death.
The British Museum notes that one copy, accessioned in 1885, was excluded from Martin Butlin's 1982 catalogue raisonné of Blake's paintings and drawings, suggesting the author doubted that attribution.
Early critics of Blake noted the work as amongst his best, and a favourite of the artist himself. A description by Richard Thompson in John Thomas Smith's Nollekens and His Times, was of "... an uncommonly fine specimen of art, and approaches almost to the sublimity of Raffaelle or Michel Angelo." and as representing the event given in the Book of Proverbs viii. 27 (KJV), "when he set a compass upon the face of the earth." The subject is said to have been one of the 'visions' experienced by Blake and that he took an especial pleasure in producing the prints. The copy commissioned by Tatham in the last days of Blake's life, for a sum of money exceeding any previous payment for his work, was tinted by the artist while propped up in his bed. After his revisions, Blake is said to have,
threw it from him, and with an air of exulting triumph exclaimed, "There, that will do! I cannot mend it."
Gallery of extant copies
There are currently thirteen known extant copies of Europe a Prophecy. Because of Blake's production process of hand colouring each print, each image has own unique qualities. The following images of The Ancient of Days are those available via the digital archiving project, the William Blake Archive:
The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy B from the Glasgow University Library
The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy D from the British Museum
The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy E from the Library of Congress
The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy H from the Houghton Library
The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy K from the Fitzwilliam Museum
Media related to The Ancient of Days by William Blake at Wikimedia Commons