The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve

Blake, William

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Watercolor on wood

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Feb-27-1998
  • Last revised: Mar-08-1998


Blake's vigorous imagination is seen in this painting where he shows Adam and Eve discovering Abel's body as Cain prepares to bury it. Adam and Eve are kneeling in horror next to Abel's white and rigid body. Adam looks with shock at Cain, who runs away, tearing at his hair. Eve throws herself over Abel's body in a gesture of extreme grief. Her arms form a circle as she bends over Abel with her head thrown down and her hair falling in waves over his body. Although posed and awkward, Adam and Eve's gestures effectively express their emotions. The newly-dug, dark long horizontal grave, emphasized by the shovel laying parallel to it in the foreground, creates a deep gash that separates the fleeing son from his parents.


The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve is a rare subject matter for art. Though found in Blake's own writing (1822), the scene is not depicted in the Bible (see Genesis iv.8-14). For Blake, ideas were more important than realistic representations. His work stands out in strong contrast to the rational order of the 18th century and was a conscious reaction against it.

Blake has drawn Cain in a manner that conveys the idea of movement more than it truly shows it. Cain's horror and guilt are depicted through his lunging pose, his body twisted with one leg stretched out far behind him. He raises his arms to tear at his hair; his eyes are wide and his mouth forms an "O" of terror. God's wrath is seen in the flaming sky.

In Blake's dramatic story (his own mythology), "The Ghost of Abel," Satan and Abel's Ghost cry for vengeance while Jehovah and his angels uphold the forgiveness of sin. In the painting, however, emotions dominate the scene. The immediate impact of Adam and Eve's sorrowful loss is heightened by the drama of Cain's recognition of his own guilt echoed by the strange pallor and sense of eclipse that pervade the panel.


Painted in 1825, this tempera is a later version of a watercolor shown in Blake?s exhibition of 1809.

Primary Source

Tate Gallery, London