William Blake (British, 1757–1827)
Color print finished in pen and ink and watercolor on paper; 21 1/2 x 30 in. (54.5 x 76 cm), platemark 18 1/8 x 23 5/8 in. (46 x 60 cm) Tate; presented W. Graham Robertson 1939
Blake's series of large color prints marks the culmination of the technical experiments in color printing that dominated his work in Lambeth in the 1790s. Massive, iconic, and unaccompanied by text, they comprise Blake's most ambitious work as a visual artist. No commission or public exhibition is recorded, and the intended program of the group remains uncertain. Many of the twelve known designs—of subjects drawn from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, and other sources—function in pairs. Blake described the technique used to make them as "fresco," although it appears to be a form of monotype. Using oil and tempera mixed with chalk, Blake painted the design onto a flat surface (a copperplate or piece of millboard), from which he pulled the prints simply by pressing a sheet of paper against the damp paint. He finished the designs in ink and watercolor, making each impression unique.In the large color print above, the great philosopher and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) appears engrossed by his diagram, and fails to see the fantastical, apparently underwater world that surrounds him. Blake faulted Newton for systematizing the universe and thus forever separating reason from imagination, mind from spirit. As Blake wrote elsewhere: "God is not a Mathematical Diagram." Newton, enslaved by reason, appears to be the pendant to Nebuchadnezzar, who is enthralled by his senses.