Friday, December 11, 2009
Returning to "The Morning of Christ's Nativity" by John Milton, for which Blake made two sets of five watercolor illustrations, there is a lot more to observe. Blake's pictures like Milton's poetry did not focus only on the supplanting of Apollo and heathen gods. The first and last pictures, like the beginning and ending of Milton's poetry present a more conventional portrait of the birth of the child based on accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
Here is Blake's first illustration for On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.
Blake of course, added distinctive features to his illustrations. In her book Blake's Vision of the Poetry of Milton, Bette Charlene Werner, on page 119 and following, points out some things that speak of Blake's own philosophy. Quoting from her book:
> With the angelic figure of Peace and the recumbent form of Nature the artist suggests the union of heaven and earth in the Word made flesh.
> the Huntington version of the design emphasizes the divinity, not only of Christ, but also by implication of man.
> The Child is pictured springing forth in unfettered freedom. The figure suggests at once the "Heav'n-born-childe" of Milton's ode and the preexistent soul whose material birth Blake describes in "Infant Sorrow" (E27, SoE48):
"My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I lept."
The Blessed Infant, ablaze with the radiance of spiritual existence, is the light that puts the inferior flame of the sun to shame.
> According to Blake "everything that lives is holy for the source of life / Descends to be a weeping babe." (E323) That understanding may explain his portrayal of Nature here, not as one whose ugliness requires a covering, but as a figure whose naked beauty is still apparent beneath the translucent covering of snow. The veiled form of Nature in this illustration is, like the Vala of Blake's own mythology, an embodiment of the vale of tears and the veil of materiality.
> Like Milton, Blake sees in the Incarnation not only the humility of Christ, emptying himself of his Godhead, but the glorification of man. He identifies Jesus, the Divine Humanity, with Imagination and insists: "Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him." (E664) This understanding makes the Nativity not only the fulfillment of God's becoming man, but a promise of salvation through the spiritual union of all men in in the One Man who is Jesus, the Savior.
Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity