- Museum number
Illustration to Dante's "Divine Comedy", 'Purgatorio", Canto XXIX - Beatrice on the car, Matilda and Dante; stream with figures on both banks, to right woman in red robe, with two attendants standing under trees in foreground, gestures towards woman on opposite bank in white, who stands beside seven candlesticks to left, other figures in distance processing towards the left. 1824-27
Watercolour over graphite
- Production date
Height: 367 millimetres
Width: 520 millimetres
- Curator's comments
Blake's illustrations to Dante were commissioned by John Linnell; it was planned to engrave the series, but the project was interrupted by Blake's death.
Though Blake himself can hardly be thought of as a landscape artist, he was a powerful influence on a group of younger painters whose perception of landscape was in great measure shaped by his vision - John Linnell and his son-in-law Samuel Palmer and the latter's circle, the so-called 'Ancients'. It was through Linnell, his most loyal supporter and patron in the 1820s, that Blake was commissioned to illustrate Thornton's 'Virgil' (1820-1), and it was Linnell who in 1824 commissioned his final project, a series of watercolours to be engraved as illustrations to Dante's 'Divine Comedy', which he left unfinished at his death. For the young Samuel Palmer, the designs for Thornton's 'Virgil' were ". . . visions of little dells, and nooks, and corners of Paradise: models of the exquisitest pitch of intense poetry". Palmer may have added something of his own vision of landscape to his interpretation of the Virgil series, for a note in Blake's hand on one of the Dante watercolours suggests that his own view of nature was more equivocal: "Every thing in Dante's Comedia shows that for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the foundation of All, & the Goddess Nature Memory is his Inspirer & not the Imagination the Holy Ghost". Nevertheless, Blake also had an intense delight in, and identification with, the natural world. Palmer later recalled to Blake's biographer, Alexander Gilchrist: "To walk with him in the country was to perceive the soul of beauty through the forms of matter".
In this watercolour, an illustration to 'Purgatorio', xxix, 13-150, Matilda, seen standing in the Earthly Paradise, bids Dante heed the approaching procession, described with many allusions to the Book of Revelation, from which are taken the seven-branched candlestick, the four and twenty elders, and the chariot drawn by a gryphon. Beatrice is on the chariot; Virgil and Statius, Dante's companions, stand at the right.
John Gage noted that the coloured washes crossing the sky in this work correspond to an inverse Newtonian rainbow (made up of seven colours), and that whilst in all Blake's known bows prior to 1804 the colours are painting in the order given by Newton, all those from 1804 onwards show the order of colours in reverse. Gage credits this to Blake having likely seen around 1803-4 a painting by George Romney entitled 'Newton and the Prism' in which the rainbow is depicted thus inversely.
John Gage, 'Colour and Meaning: Art, Science and Symbolism' (1999) pp. 144-152.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1933 BM, Prints and drawings/Campbell Dodgson, 1912-1932, no.126
1934 BM, Exhibition of English Art, no.341
1975 Hamburg, Kunsthalle, 'William Blake 1757-1827', no.214
1975? Frankfurt, Staedelsches Kunstinstitut, William Blake, no. 102
1978 Jun-Jul, Manchester, Whitworth AG, 'William Blake', no. 333
1982 Sep-Nov, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 'Blake', no. 116i
1982/3 Dec-Feb, Toronto AG, 'Blake', no. 116i
1984, BM, Master Drawings & Watercolours, no. 174
1985, BM, British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860, no.63
1991 Jan-Mar, Cleveland MA, Ohio, BM English Watercolours, no. 33
1991 Mar-June, N Carolina MA, BM English Watercolours, no. 33
1999/2000 Dec-Apr, BM, Apocalypse, section 5, no. 37
2000/1 Nov-Feb, London, Tate Britain, 'William Blake'
2007 Aug-Nov, Grasmere, Dove Cottage, 'Dante Rediscovered'
2019-2020, 11 Sep-2 Feb, London, Tate Britain, William Blake: The Artist
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Divine Comedy
Associated Title: Purgatorio
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Ernest Debenham contributed £100.00 towards the group
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number