Eric Gill’s John Opening: Textual Word and Picture

Page from Eric Gill’s edition of the Four Gospels, 1931

Now this is what I’m talking about (click the image for a larger version, and here for information on the book).

A picture is integrated with words as a composed text in this opening of John’s Gospel – so well integrated, in fact, that the two compenetrate and interweave effortlessly, and one is reminded of William Blake. In parallel with the words, the picture of the pre-incarnate Christ with Adam and Eve and the Serpent draws our attention to the connexion between the words of John and the text of Genesis. The presence of the Serpent accentuates the last sentence on the page: ‘And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’

This is, of course, a very appropriate commentary, as both John and Genesis begin with ‘in the beginning’. I have ample reason to say ‘commentary’ in this case beyond what I’ve said before about pictures serving as a kind of commentary in church life: you may notice that the diagonal stroke of the big N has Latin words which read, Quis est iste qui venit de Edom tinctis vestibus de bosras [sic] (quoting Isaiah 63.1). Establishment of concordance, I must say, is definitely a kind of commentary for such a thing as the biblical Canon.

Interestingly, if I’m not mistaken, there seems to be a rainbow in the picture, which didn’t figure at all in the story of Man’s fall. Anyone still want to say pictures are just for the kids?


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