Tuesday, January 22, 2013


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Blake is one of the major Romantic poets, whose verse and artwork became part of the wider movement of Romanticism in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century European Culture. For the nineteenth century reader Blakes work posed a single question was he sane or mad? The poet Wordsworth, for example, commented that there is no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in his madness which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott and John Ruskin similarly felt that Blakes work was diseased and wild, even if his mind was great and wise. In the Twentieth century, however, Blake has been recognized as a highly original and important poet, artist and writer. The famous work of Blake that I chose to analyze is entitled Nebuchadnezzar, created in 175.

Blakes work can be difficult at times, mainly because the reader is offered Blakes visions in Blakes own terms. What Blake seeks to express can only be presented in terms of vague abstractions and allusions, with a cosmic perspective on issues of faith, religion, philosophy and belief, and this must also mean that the reader or viewer has to work hard. Yet the effort is worth it. William Blake was born in 1757, the third son of a London hosier. As the son of a hosier, a generally lower middle class occupation in late eighteenth century London, he was brought up in a poor household, a preparation for the relative poverty in which he would live for most of his life. He also received little formal schooling, which is all the more remarkable given both the depth and range of his reading of the Bible, of Milton and Greek and Latin classic literature, evident throughout his work. He lived until his death in 187, and was buried in a common grave.

Blake’s paintings usually have no accompanying text. This obviously goes back to Mitchell’s belief that photographs and paintings should stand alone. I think Blake felt the same way. Before trying to analysis the painting myself I wanted to find out more about it and the painter. As Berger states to avoid mystification (something he is strongly against) we need to understand the artist’s context. What is the artist’s way of seeing? Only then could I understand and analyze the paintings for myself. When I first saw the painting it looked very interesting and as if a story was behind it. I stared at it for a while trying to grasp my perspective of it. “Perspective makes the single eye the center of the visible world. Everything converges on the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity”(11).Because I don’t really have an artistic eye the painting only looked like a creature in cave, half man, half beast. I have a strong foundation in the church, so after reading the title I remembered the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible. The story told of ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ who was punished by God for his unbelief and pride in the Book of Daniel. The book of Daniel represents him as proud and domineering, and eventually descending into madness. I then began to notice that the most light was focused on his face and how the man/beast looks frightened, as if he is running from something. There could really be a deeper “reading” or meaning of this painting but I feel that my reading of it is close to other scholars and Blake’s. It is hindered by my lack of knowledge and appreciation of art. As Berger stated, “ the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe”(106).

What many scholars think and what I agree with is that Nebuchadnezzar captures the dark and mysterious madness that controlled the ancient king of Babylon. Perhaps Blake understood madness. He lived during the time of the French Revolution and the first trials of kingly madness in the English king, George III. Blake has in this painting taken the image of a man and skillfully molded him into a wild beast. The long unkempt hair and claw-like nails add to the terror in the eyes, showing a wild, confused and frightened king. The body is animal-like; muscles and shoulders are powerful from years of crawling and climbing on hands and knees. The simplicity of the setting and the unity of color eliminate distractions and a luminous light helps to focus attention on the face. In simple strokes Blake has been able to convey to us an inner wildness, a suggestion of personal madness, which is both ancient and modern.

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I think that Blake’s experiences and lifestyle contributed greatly to his way of seeing this painting. Throughout his lifetime I am sure he has encountered many people who he thought were mad and materialistic, especially since he grew up in poverty. I also think that Blake, in his works, used Nebuchadnezzar to symbolize the bestial condition of a man who believes only in the reality of material things. This painting to me seemed most like a drama of contrast. Blake doesn’t seem to agree that one should focus on material things and tried to bring out the repercussions of that through this painting. The works of William Blake are both creative and powerful and I believe his unique greatness lies in no single achievement, but in the whole of what he was.

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