‘Wonderful Originals’

In his descriptions of his paintinsg of Pitt and Nelson in the Descriptive Catalogue for his disastrous one-man show in 1809, Blake wrote:

‘The two Pictures of Nelson and Pitt are compositions of a mythological cast, similar to those Apotheoses of Persian, Hindoo, and Egyptian Antiquity, which are still preserved on rude monuments, being copies from some stupendous originals now lost or perhaps buried till some happier age. The Artist having been taken in vision into the ancient republics, monarchies, and patriarchates of Asia, has seen those wonderful originals called in the Sacred Scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculptured and painted on walls of Temples, Towers, Cities, Palaces, and erected in the highly cultivated states of Egypt, Moab, Edom, Aram, among the Rivers of Paradise, being originals from which the Greeks and Hetrurians copied Hercules, Farnese, Venus of Medicis, Apollo Belvidere, and all the grand works of ancient art. They were executed in a very superior style to those justly admired copies, being with their accompaniments terrific and grand in the highest degree. The Artist has endeavoured to emulate the grandeur of those seen in his vision, and to apply it to modern Heroes, on a smaller scale.

No man can believe that either Homer’s Mythology, or Ovid’s, were the production of Greece, or of Latium; neither will any one believe, that the Greek statues, as they are called, were the invention of Greek Artists; perhaps the Torso is the only original work remaining; all the rest are evidently copies, though fine ones, from greater works of the Asiatic Patriarchs. The Greek Muses are daughters of Mnemosyne, or Memory, and not of Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime conceptions. Those wonderful originals seen in my visions, were some of them one hundred feet in height; some were painted as pictures, and some carved as basso relievos, and some as groupes of statues, all containing mythological and recondite meaning, where more is meant than meets the eye. The Artist wishes it was now the fashion to make such monuments, and then he should not doubt of having a national commission to execute these two Pictures on a scale that is suitable to the grandeur of the nation, who is the parent of his heroes, in high finished fresco, where the colours would be as pure and as permanent as precious stones though the figures were one hundred feet in height.’

In short, Blake claimed that the pictures were inspired by, and sought to emulate, wonders of ancient art which he had been taken to see in his visions.

Not all of us are mental travellers like Blake.

The threat to the ancient city of Palmyra in the wake of its seizure by IS could lead to the destruction of its stunning and historically significant remains.

In the absence of the kind of visionary powers which Blake claimed to have, I feel very lucky to have visited this beautiful and beguiling place, and very sad that it is under threat.

Below are a selection of my photographs from my visit in 2009 for the benefit of virtual travellers.

DSCF4510 DSCF4503 DSCF4595 DSCF4611 DSCF4640 DSCF4613 DSCF4644

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