The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

Artist: William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London)

Date: ca. 1799–1800

Medium: Watercolor, pen and black ink over graphite

Dimensions: Sheet: 14 3/16 × 13 1/16 in. (36 × 33.2 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1914

Accession Number: 14.81.2


Blake painted four versions of this subject for his patron Thomas Butts and this lucid watercolor is the earliest. The wise virgins at left are elegant, palely luminous, and composed within a single plane, recalling classical low-relief sculpture. In contrast, their foolish companions at right are agitated and characterized by dark tones. The drawing illustrates a parable in Matthew 25:1-13 used by Jesus to warn listeners to be spiritually prepared:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

A trumpeting angel flying overhead signifies that the moment of judgment has arrived.