- Museum number
Sketch for an illustration to "The Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan; Christian at the House Beautiful - received at the door by Discretion and her sisters. c. 1792-1826
Graphite with some pen and grey ink
- Production date
- 1792-1826 (circa)
Height: 110 millimetres
Width: 167 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- A finished drawing of this subject (in which Christian is shown in the same attitude and pose as this sketch) is in the collection of the Yale Centre for British Art (B1975.4.319). This is signed and dated June 1792 by Flaxman.
The BM's holdings of Flaxman's drawings illustrating scenes from Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" demonstrate both the artist's immense prodigiousness - many of these were produced during the same period in Italy when he was engaged in making over two hundred illustrations to classical texts - and the centrality of Christianity to his life. These illustrations differ from the classical ones, however, in that they were never engraved for publication; David Irwin described these works, along with other religious drawings executed by the artist, as "made for his own and his wife's enjoyment, as well as that of his friends." It is perhaps ironic that Flaxman's religious drawings were never published given his belief, as expressed to Ludwig Schorn near the end of his life, that "art in Christianity can rise higher than in paganism, since Christian ideas are more sublime than pagan ones, and the best that the art of Greece and Rome has produced is ... also contained in Christian ideas … there are more suitable artistic subjects to be found in the Old and New testaments than in pagan mythology" (Bindman, 1979, p. 31). However, when asked directly by a fellow artist why he hadn't "illustrated sacred history" Flaxman is alleged to have responded that "he had not been employed", indicating that the prevailing taste amongst connoisseurs and patrons was for classical subjects (Irwin, 1979, p. 107).
John Bunyon's "The Pilgrim's Progress" was first published at the beginning of 1678 in an edition of 191 pages and was an immediate success. A second edition appeared before the end of 1678, with many new passages, a third in 1679, and several subsequent editions before Bunyan's death in August 1688. The Second Part of "The Pilgrim's Progress". Its significance as one of the foremost works of English literature is demonstrated by the fact that it has never been out of print, and has been translated into more than 200 languages.
Over 40 drawings relating to Bunyon's text were identified by G.E. Bentley in 1976; these are primarily held by University College, London, the Huntington Museum, the Yale Centre for British Art and the BM. David Bindman has suggested that this corpus of material can be divided into two groups of drawings which differ stylistically; first are those executed in Rome, and second is a group of drawings which appear to have been executed later (these were tentatively dated to after 1800).
The date of the register number precedes that of the sale at which the drawing was acquired. The date in the register therefore should have been May rather than March.
Gerald Bentley, 'Flaxman's Drawings for Pilgrim's Progress' in P. Fritz and R. Morton (eds.), 'Women in the Eighteenth Century and Other Essays' (1976) pp. 245-278.
David Irwin, 'John Flaxman: 1755-1826' (1979) pp. 106-108.
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Pilgrim's Progress
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number