Re-viewing William Blake’s Paradise Regained (c. 1816–1820)

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

This article presents a revisionist reading of William Blake’s (1757–1827) twelve watercolor designs for John Milton’s “Paradise Regained” (c. 1816–1820). The designs have previously been dismissed in critical commentary as of little interest to Blake scholarship, or regarded as a narrative merely about Christ’s human nature. This article argues that they are also a visual expression of Blake’s cosmology; it is proposed that the designs express a positive cosmology, in which Paradise is not so much to be regained, as re-viewed. The article argues that Blake emphasizes Christ’s divinity in the designs and that he is depicted as an immanent, sacramental presence in the world; hence, the world that Christ inhabits in the designs is a Paradise. The article begins by outlining its reading of Blake’s view of the material world, and moves on to discuss the “Paradise Regained” designs in detail, with a particular focus on The Baptism of Christ, the opening subject of the series, which establishes the positive cosmology presented throughout the series.

Sections

Figures

  • Figure 1

    William Blake, The Baptism of Christ (Paradise Regained), c .1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper, 174 × 136 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 2

    William Blake, The Baptism of Christ (Paradise Regained), detail, c. 1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 3

    William Blake, ‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days,’ 1827(?). Etching and bodycolor (gold) on paper, 232 × 170 mm. The Whitworth, The University of Manchester. Gift of John Edward Taylor, 1892.

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  • Figure 4

    William Blake, Christ tempted by Satan to turn the stones into bread (Paradise Regained), c .1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper, 168 × 133 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 5

    William Blake, Satan tempts Christ with the Kingdoms of the Earth (Paradise Regained), c. 1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper, 168 × 131 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 6

    William Blake, Christ placed on the pinnacle of the Temple (Paradise Regained), c. 1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper, 166 × 133 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 7

    William Blake, The Resurrection, c. 1805. Watercolor, black-gray ink and graphite on off-white wove paper, 414 × 302 mm. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.405.

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  • Figure 8

    William Blake, Angels ministering to Christ (Paradise Regained), c. 1816–1818. Pen, India ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper, 165 × 136 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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  • Figure 9

    William Blake, Christ Accepting the Office of Redeemer (Illustration to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”), 1808. Pen and watercolor on paper, 496 × 393 mm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum purchase with fund donated by contribution 90.94.

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  • Figure 10

    William Blake, Christ returns to His mother (Paradise Regained), c. 1816–1818. Pen, Indian ink, grey wash and watercolor on paper. 168 × 133 mm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Bequeathed by Thomas Henry Riches 1935.

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