Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils

Blake, William

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Watercolor on wood

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Feb-27-1998
  • Last revised: Jan-22-2003


Dominating the image, a vengeful Satan with arms outstretched stands upon Job's prone body dispensing boils from a vial with his left hand while shooting arrows at him with his right. Job's head is thrown back and his hands are lifted off the ground in a sign of agony. His weeping wife kneels at his feet. The background is minimal yet dramatic with its dark swirling clouds, bright setting sun, and Satan's huge blood red wings.


Poet, painter, and visionary, Blake's works are pictorial, stimulated by literary sources (poetry--including his own and Dante's; and the Bible). This image epitomizes maintaining faith in God despite all hardship, pain and trials of life. A deeply religious man, Blake believed the artist was a prophet whose mission was to illuminate the realms of the spirit. His renditions of the story of Job prefigure the suffering of Jesus and His promise of redemption. Blake's emotionally engaging narratives--storytelling pictures--act out their themes by the lines composing them just as his own "Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night" does so exactly in words.

The most feared diseases (leprosy, syphilis) are not simply fatal but transform the body into something alienating and repulsive (see Sontag's Illness as Metaphor, and AIDS and Its Metaphors, annotated in this database). "Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils" is provocative, perhaps even prophetic in light of both the medical realities of AIDS, (Kaposi sarcomas, Cytomegalovirus, slim's disease, neuropathy) and the propagandist function of art which insinuates a theological message of disease. For discussion of The Book of Job, see annotation in this database.

Pouring a vial of venereal disease and directing the arrows at the senses (sight, taste, hearing, smell) could be a pictorial translation of WOGS [Wrath of God Syndrome]. Even touch is affected; the palms as well as the soles of Job's feet seem to be pushing his wife away. Ivan Ilyich's "Why hast thou brought me here, Why, why dost thou torment me so terribly" are blatantly Job's cries (The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy, see this database).

In this image the devil himself is the stand-in for cherubic Cupid, the tarot ombudsman of love, whose arrows promote sensuality and sexual union. It is of interest to pair Blake's painting with Gruenwald's depiction, "The Damnation of Guilty Lovers." in which Satan's familiars--the snakes and scorpions-- feed on the organs that were the source of sexual pleasure (reprinted in Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions, p. 53, see this database).


Blake was commissioned to do 22 engravings of the story. This 1925 painting shares the same composition except that Satan?s wings replace the dark clouds of the engraving.

Primary Source

British Museum, London