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WILLIAM BLAKE: A RETROSPECTIVE
Dismissed by his contemporaries as a madman, William Blake (1757 – 1827) finally emerges as a vital and influential artist for the modern age.
In what is one of William Blake’s most famous watercolors, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, the Dragon stands with his back facing the viewer, wings unfurled from a muscular back, legs spread firmly apart with one foot tipping forward in anticipation. The woman below him, entwined in his tail, gazes up in distress while holding her hands over her head as an entreaty…
Or is it an invitation? In addition to fearsome apocalyptic grandiosity (the watercolor was commissioned around 1803 by Blake’s patron Thomas Butts to illustrate the Biblical Book of Revelation), the sexual energy suffusing the work is palpable. The Dragon is both beast and human. And the woman is both frightened and welcoming. It’s a kinetic painting: purposefully uncomfortable, emotionally dynamic, and undeniably as personal as it is Biblical.
A modern audience may quickly identify the psychological underpinnings of the Great Red Dragon in the erotic symbolism of the water and the phallic tail, but Blake’s pre-Freudian contemporaries often reacted with puzzlement at his works. Blake produced non-academic, esoteric pieces that contained little of the classical themes or accepted symbolism of his time. Unlike his fellow painters J.M.W. Turner and John Constable who sought inspiration in the visible – human subjects and the natural world – Blake sought inspiration inwardly in his personal mindscape of dreams and visions.
William Blake was born to a moderately wealthy family in London on November 28, 1757, to his mother Catherine, and his father James, a hosier. At the age of four, he saw his first vision: the face of God in his window. At age nine, he saw a vision of a “tree full of angels.” Bake continued experiencing visions for the rest of his life, seeing angels, prophets and souls walking among the living in the streets of London. Because of what he saw, he considered his hometown to be a heavenly city, and was inspired to write the poems “Heavenly London” and “Jerusalem.”
Blake started engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased […]
The Night of Enitharmons Joy, often referred to as The Triple Hecate or simply Hecate, is a 1795 work of art by the English artist and poet William Blake which depicts Enitharmon, a female character in his mythology, or Hecate, a chthonic Greco-Roman goddess of magic and the underworld. The work presents a nightmarish scene with fantastic creatures. The Hecate is painted with deep tones and bold masses. Blake employed a new technique whose “effect is darker and richer than [his] illuminated books”. One scholar interprets his colour print Hecate thus:
“She is triple according to mythology: a girl and a boy hide their heads behind her back. her left hand lies on a book of magic; her left food is extended. She is attended by a thistle-eating ass, the mournful owl of false wisdom, the head of a crocodile (blood-thirsty hypocrisy), and a cat-headed bat.“
Blake often drew on Michelangelo to create and compose his epic images, including Hecate’s, according to a consensus of critics. “Blake is indebted to Michelangelo for many of his great forms”. Michelangelo contributed many “characters to Blake’s gallery of mythic persons and heroes”. Regarding the Hecate colour print, a suggested trail may be traced. From Michelangelo, Blake copied his early sketch entitled the Reposing Traveller, which then evolved into a figure for his work (1795-1797) regarding Night Thoughts, and also into the similarly posed figure of Hecate here.
The image may also allude to the Three Fates – the Moirai of Greek mythology and the Parcae of Roman. Notwithstanding these allusions, critics point out that a contemporary trigger for Blake’s inspiration probably was the return popularity of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. As Hecate listens offstage, the three witches, in arranging Macbeth’s doom, chant: “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble”. Each witch in turn adds her verses, the second’s being:for him by his father. […]
“Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frong,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
[…] practice that was preferred to actual drawing. Within these drawings Blake found his first exposure to classical forms through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Maarten van Heemskerck and Albrecht Durer. The number of prints and bound books that James and Catherine were able to purchase for young William suggests that the Blakes enjoyed, at least for a time, a comfortable wealth. The […]