Wednesday, 11 September 2019

the ghost of a flea

Sadly unrecognised during his lifetime, poet, painter and free love advocate, William Blake (*1757 - †1827, see also here and here) produced a large and diverse body of work under the ethos that to exercise the human imagination and push its limits was itself next to godliness. Misunderstood and dismissed as mad, Blake’s single showing while still on this plane was disastrous, one critic calling him an ‘unfortunate lunatic whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement.’
The retrospective exhibition currently at London‘s Tate Gallery (see also from friend of the blog, Nag on the Lake) is certainly a belated vilification and underscores the resonance of his vision.  Perhaps most well known for his illustration of The Book of Job and Dante’s Divine Comedy, like the pictured vignette of Capaneus the Blasphemer, a besieger of Thebes whom Zeus struck down with a lightning bolt for his arrogance, and is confined to the Seventh Circle of Hell with the other souls whom have committed violence against God, though the form of his extinction make him impervious to the torture of the flames and as a pagan he addresses the deity as Jove and still curses him. The titular episode refers to a miniature panel inspired by a vision that came to his friend and collaborator John Varley during a séance and evokes comparison to Henry Fuseli’s 1781 The Nightmare.