Blake'w watercolor contrasts two groups of young women. Those at left hold full oil lamps and their luminous forms are arranged to resemble a classical low-relief sculpture, whereas their companions at right are agitated, dressed in dark clothing, and lack any source of light. The related parable in Matthew 25:1–4 urges spiritual preparedness: "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.
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Title:The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
Artist:William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London)
Medium:Watercolor, pen and black ink, brush and wash, over graphite
Inscription: Signed with monogram at lower right in ink: "WB inv" Inscribed on verso: "Matt. 25 Ch. v. 9"
Thomas Butts (British); Thomas Butts Jr. (British), sold at the following; Sotheby's, London, March 26, 1852, lot 165; Henry George Bohn (British), purchased at the preceding; Benjamin Godfrey Windus (British); Mrs. J. K de Putron, daughter of the preceding, by 1863, sold at the following; Anonymous seller, Christie's, London, March 16, 1912, lot 4; Frank T. Sabin (British), bought at the preceding; Vendor: Frank T. Sabin (British)
British Museum, London. "The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come," December 17, 1999–April 24, 2000.
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New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "William Blake," March 29–June 24, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 10–July 9, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 4–June 12, 2011.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Innocence and Experience: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints," February 9, 2023–May 16, 2023.
William Michael Rossetti "Annotated Catalogue of Blake's Pictures and Drawings." in Life of William Blake. Edited by Alexander Gilchrist, vol. 2, London, 1863, cat. no. 64, 194, pp. 208, 231.
William Michael Rossetti "Annotated Catalogue of Blake's Pictures and Drawings." in Life of WIlliam Blake. Edited by Alexander Gilchrist, vol. 2, 2nd enlarged ed., London, 1880, cat. no. 70, p. 216.
Archibald G. B. Russell Catalogue of Loan Exhibition of Works by William Blake Exh. cat. National Gallery of British Art, October-December, 1913, p. 20 (MMA version mentioned as version two of four; not exhibited).
Joseph Wicksteed Blake's Vision of the Book of Job. 2nd ed., revised and enlarged. 1924, cat. no. 2, p. 124.
Blake Centenary Exhibition. Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1927, p. 28 (MMA drawing mentioned as version two of four; not exhibited).
William Blake, 1757–1827: A Descriptive Catalogue of An Exhibition of the Works of William Blake Selected from Collections in the United States Ex. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1939, cat. no. 168, p. 119.
Walter Mehring European Drawings from the Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Portfolio of Collotype Reproductions [Vol. 1: Italian Drawings; Vol. 2: Flemish, Dutch, German, Spanish, French, and British drawings; Vol. 3: "New Series": Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German, Spanish, French, and British drawings]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 3 vols., New York, 1942–44, cat. no. 66, vol. 2, ill.
Edward Fenton "Word Becomes Image." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.s. vol. 13, no. 8, New York, April 1955, p. 249, ill.
Martin Butlin William Blake (1757-1827): A Catalogue of the Works of William Blake in the Tate Gallery. Tate Gallery, 1957, p. 52.
Geoffrey Keynes, George Goyder William Blake's Illustrations to the Bible. William Blake Trust, Clairvaux, 1957, cat. no. 130a, p. 38.
Sir Anthony Blunt The Art of William Blake. 1959, p. 73.
Jacob Bean 100 European Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1964, cat. no. 100, ill.
John Beer Blake's Humanism. Manchester University Press, Barnes and Noble, 1968, pp. 294-5.
William Blake The Letters of William Blake. Geoffrey Keynes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1968, p. 117.
G. E. Bentley Blake Records. Oxford, 1969, pp. 571-2.
David Bindman William Blake: Catalogue of the Collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum, W. Heffer and Sons Ltd., 1970, p. 45.
Martin Butlin William Blake Ex. cat., 9 March–21 May. Tate Gallery, 1978, cat. no. 172, pp. 90-91, ill.
Martin Butlin The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake. Yale University Press, 2 vols., New Haven, 1981, cat. no. 478, p. 354, pl. 566, vol. II.
G. E. Bentley Blake Records, Second Edition: Documents (1714-1841) Concerning the Life of William Blake (1757-1827) and his Family; Incorporating "Blake Records" (1969), "Blake Records Supplement" (1988), and Extensive Discoveries since 1988. Yale University Press, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged. New Haven and London, 2004, p. 764.
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