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Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun

…I do not consider either the just, or the wicked, to be in a supreme state, but to be, every one of them, states of the sleep which the soul may fall into in its deadly dreams of good and evil, when it leaves Paradise following the serpent.
William Blake, “A Vision of the Last Judgement”

A cosmic battle between good and evil unfolds in this dramatic watercolor by romantic poet and visionary artist William Blake. Sweeping lines across the drawing and evoke the zigzag flash of lightning, whoosh of a gale, and flap of wings, imbuing the scene with tension. The stakes are no less than the fate of humankind.

The book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, contains a series of warnings to Christians to maintain and guard their faith, then relates a series of allegorical episodes that demonstrate the consequences of spiritual defection. Blake’s The Great Red Dragon and Woman Clothed in the Sun illustrates passages that describe a “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” who descends upon “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” The dragon embodies Satan. His mission is to exact revenge on the woman who has given birth to a follower of God who will spread the Christian faith.

Sun bathes the woman’s figure and catches in the crescent sliver of moon on which she rests. Darkness and shadow fill the sky above like a storm cloud as the dragon’s wings stir a great wind and sweep her hair upward, flamelike. Below, a rising deluge invoked by the dragon–intended to engulf the woman—overwhelms the figures of hapless souls. As the devil hovers to witness her demise, God grants her wings that carry her to safety. Yet the powerful image of the dragon’s outstretched arms and hers arcing toward each other in mirror image suggest that good and evil are a duality, like the dark and light sides of the moon, rather than completely independent forces.

The earth will open up to swallow the water, and the thwarted dragon will fly away to wage war against the woman’s progeny, the followers of God. For Blake, it is spiritual power—the purity and goodness represented by the woman—that always prevails, however horrific the circumstances.
Three other watercolors of the Great Dragon passages appear in a series of book of Revelation works made by Blake between 1805 and 1809. They are part of a larger group of tempera and watercolor paintings executed for Blake’s most important patron, Thomas Butts.
Slideshow: Blake's Great Dragons

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