William Blake. The Romantic Period (1785-1830). The Romantic Period was an era of turbulence. Slave trade abolished in 1807 The American and French Revolutions England took on harsh, repressive measures The "Industrial Revolution"
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Blake’s only formal education was in art
-age 10: entered a drawing school
-studied for a time at the Royal Academy of
-age 14: entered seven-year apprenticeship
to well-known engraver James Basire
Gave drawing lessons
Illustrated the works of other poets
Engraved designs made by other artists
Had a patron, William Hayley, who tried to transform Blake into a more conventional artist (Blake said of Hayley: “[He] is the Enemy of my Spiritual Life while he pretends to be the Friend of my Corporeal”)
…His highly detailed illustrations often focus on parts of the human anatomy or fantastically imaginative creatures surrounded by various natural forms. Often tackling difficult metaphorical themes, his characters embodying inspiration and creativity do battle with oppressive forces like law and religion"
-"As an artist Blake admired and studied the works of Raphael, Heemskerk, Dürer, and Michelangelo, who would become important influences to the fantastic and at times apocalyptic illustrations he created for his own writings and others" (Merriman).
“Seeing the hand of God in the events [of the French Revolution] and understanding those events as the fulfillment of prophecies of the coming millennium came easily to figures such as…Coleridge, Wollstonecraft, and above all, Blake” (Norton Anthology)
Traditions of radical Protestant Dissent
Imminence of the Apocalypse and the coming of the Kingdom of God had long been central
“The new heaven and earth promised in the prophecies could…be gained by the individual who had achieved a new, spiritualized, and visionary way of seeing. An apocalypse of the imagination could liberate the individual from time, from what Blake called the “mind-forg’d manacles of imprisoning orthodoxies” (Norton Anthology)
"In 1808 he exhibited some of his watercolors at the Royal Academy, and in May of 1809 he exhibited his works at his brother James's
…Some of those who saw the exhibit praised Blake's artistry…
"To read a Blake poem without the pictures is to miss something important:
Blake places words and images in a relationship that is sometimes mutually enlightening and sometimes turbulent,
and that relationship is an aspect of the poem's argument"
(Norton Anthology, 77)
Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow
Late in His Career
-in his sixties, gave up poetry to devote himself to art
-hundreds of engravings and illustrations for the works of other poets
Dante’s Divine Comedy:
Whirlwind of Lovers
Not well-known in his time, it wasn’t until the mid-1920’s that Blake, as a painter and poet, was recognized as “one of the most dedicated, intellectually challenging, and astonishingly original artists” (Norton Anthology)
Innocence vs Experience
-wistful and carefree
-cruel and harsh
-critical of society/religion
-full of darkness and death
“Infant Joy” vs “Infant Sorrow”
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?”
(Holy Thursday, 90)