William Blake was ahead of his time– from his indignation at the treatment of poor children and black slaves to his unconventional views on religion and politics. Yet the innovation of Blake’s artistic works is generally overlooked in comparison to that of his literary works. Perhaps it is because Blake’s engaging style of writing so deeply engrosses readers that they often forget the significance of Blake’s visual elements. Even in the study of art history, students who examine the Romantic Age are so preoccupied with Blake’s mainstream contemporaries that they rarely analyze his works at the same level of detail. With the exception of a few enthusiasts, the general public is much more familiar with Blake the poet than Blake the artist. Whatever the reason, the result is a lopsided view of a multitalented individual whose visual creations are just as original as his poems. Therefore, by analyzing one of Blake’ more obscure works, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, one can gain a fresh insight on Blake’s artistic ingenuity.
Whether a piece of art is contemporary or as old as Blake’s, it shares many common features to consider when studying it. In the introduction to her art history textbook, Marilyn Stockstad writes “The work of art historians can be divided into four types of investigation: 1. assessment of physical properties, 2. analysis of visual or formal structure, 3. identification of subject matter or conventional symbolism, 4. integration within cultural context,” (Stockstad, xxvii).
The physical properties and formal structure of The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun show Blake’s ability to envision a fantastical scene with astounding detail. This watercolor painting shows the posterior view of an anthropomorphic dragon as it looms over the body of a brightly colored woman (Blake). Blake contrasts the woman and the dragon through formal elements. Bright yellow light coming from the woman seems to blanch the red color of the dragon into a dulled yellow-brown hue. Blake also employs a secondary light source coming from somewhere behind the dragon. Rather than making the dragon a black silhouette, Blake creates the illusion of three-dimensional surfaces by shading and illuminating different parts of the dragon’s complex anatomy. Blake’s clearly defined outlines and dark shading serve to model the shape of the strikingly realistic dragon. The wings are a perfect example of linear modeling, a technique that is implemented mathematically in three dimensions to create computer generated imagery (Hilton, Adrian, and Gentils).
Blake’s usage of space and selectively focussed composition creates an almost cinematic view of the scene. The composition is dominated by the dragon, who has been selectively focussed over the woman in the background. The woman is not only smaller and farther away than the dragon, but she is also placed at the very bottom of the painting. Recession in space is apparent...