29 July 2008

William Blake and his Great Red Dragons

This is inexplicable but nevertheless I am fascinated by the poetry and art of William Blake.

William Blake, the visionary, even hallucinatory English painter and poet, who lived at the dawn of the technological era (1757-1827). I think he was a better poet than a painter, but this opinion is in the eye of the beholder. Unlike most artists of his era he did not draw from life, claiming that the visions that appeared before him were clearer and more vivid than his perception of external reality. He was a happy lunatic, an fantastic artist or maybe a realistic one? Though it is hard to classify Blake’s body of work in one genre, he heavily influenced the Romantic poets with recurring themes of good and evil, heaven and hell, knowledge and innocence, and external reality versus inner. Going against common conventions of the time, Blake believed in sexual and racial equality and justice for all, rejected the Old Testament’s teachings in favour of the New, and abhorred oppression in all its forms. He focused his creative efforts beyond the five senses, for,

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.—from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Around 1805-1810, Blake was commissioned to create over a hundred paintings illustrating books from the Bible. Among these was a four-painting cycle of the Great Red Dragon (Satan) from the Book of Revelations in the Bible. The dragon is described as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns. His tail drew one third of the stars of the sky, and threw them to the earth.

Here are the paintings from the cycle of the Great Red Dragon:

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