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Watercolor (reproduction)

Fine-press printing by the Whittington Press. Watercolor illustrations by William Blake inspired by John Milton’s poetry, originally painted in 1809 and reproduced along with Milton’s hymn in 1981.

According to Martin Butlin of the Tate Gallery (where the original paintings are kept), Blake was a great admirer of Milton’s. Blake (1757–1827) was a visionary, nonconformist English painter and poet. Since the twentieth century he has been considered a key figure of the Romantic Era. According to Butlin, “He saw the arts in all their forms as offering insights into the metaphysical world and therefore potentially redemptive of a humanity he believed to have fallen into materialism and doubt.”


This example exhibits William Blake’s characteristically mystical imagery. Here, a group of figures- men, women and a child- kneel in a semi-circle in a field. In the distance is the crèche, representing the Nativity scene. The figures all wear cloaks, and gaze at the vision of angels above them. The light from the angels illuminates their faces. There are no artifacts depicted to indicate that the people are shepherds, but they are accompanied as in other scenes by a dog. The angels above form a circle. John Milton’s poem that accompanies this piece in the book reads:

At last surrounds their sight, A globe of circular light, That with long beams the shamefaced Night arrayed; The helmèd Cherubim, And sworded Seraphim, Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed, Harping in loud and solemn quire, With unexpressive notes, to Heaven’s newborn Heir.

Blake was inspired by Milton’s poetry to create this piece and it is interesting to see how he has translated the verse such that the angels become the orb of light. The circle is often used symbolically in Christian art to represent eternity.


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