© 1984 Erich Lessing/Tate Gallery, London

Elohim Creating Adam, William Blake (1795). Painted by the British poet-artist William Blake, this scene of Adam’s creation conveys an extraordinary image of God. A winged deity with his brows intently contracted, his mouth open, and his troubled gaze focused inward, hovers over the prone and anguished figure of Adam. Adam throws up his arms in despair as he experiences the pain of coming into being. About his body a serpent entwines, an emblem for Blake of mortality and of humanity’s enslavement to the material world.

Though influenced by Michelangelo’s images of God, Blake’s God is more intense and introspective. Whereas Michelangelo’s God is possessed of sublime assurance in his own creative powers, Blake’s God suffers as he brings into being an imperfect Adam.