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In The Human Form Divine, Patrick Noon comments:
"Another tempera that Mr. Mellon acquired at this time , The Horse, is decidedly not an easel painting and probably was not intended for Butts but is indisputably the gem of the painting collection. Identical in size to the small engraved illustration for Hayley's Ballads (1805) that it reproduces, it might be one of the 'little high finished Pictures the size the engravings are to be' mentioned by Blake in a letter to Hayley of March 1805. If so, it is the only surviving example, but the many similarities between The Horse and the intricately rendered and richly textured large color prints of 1805, irrespective of their different media, certainly justify this supposition." Page 9
Letters, 22 March 1805, (E 763) "The Subjects I cannot do better than those already chosen, as they are the most eminent among Animals Viz The Lion. The Eagle. The Horse. The Dog. Of the Dog Species the Two Ballads are so preeminent & my Designs for them please me so well that I have chosen that Design in our Last Number of the Dog & Crocodile. & that of the Dog defending his
Master from the Vultures of these five I am making little high finishd Pictures the Size the Engravings are to be."
Blake incorporates in his design images which make it less an illustration for Hayley's ballad than a group of symbols for us to consider. The horse dominates in its size, its position and its energy. The woman as a static figure counters the intensity of the horse with her own gaze. The female child balances the energy of the horse with her own energy. The setting includes trees, a hillside and water in the foreground. The horse may represent the passion of Blake's own creative or sexual impulse; the woman may represent the control required to fashion his emotion and imagination into his works of poetry and painting; the child may represent his artistic creations still in need of protection as they are released to the outer world.
Thel, Plate 3, (E 4) "O virgin know'st thou not. our steeds drink of the golden springs Where Luvah doth renew his horses"
Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 25, (E 45) "19. Where the son of fire in his eastern cloud, while the morning plumes her golden breast, 20. Spurning the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease." Visions of Daughters of Albion, Plate 14,(E 66) "Sotha & Thiralatha, secret dwellers of dreamful caves, Arise and please the horrent fiend with your melodious songs. Still all your thunders golden hoofd, & bind your horses black. Orc! smile upon my children! Smile son of my afflictions. Arise O Orc and give our mountains joy of thy red light." Milton, Plate 12 , (E 105) "The Horses of Palamabron call'd for rest and pleasant death: I [Leutha] sprang out of the breast of Satan, over the Harrow beaming In all my beauty! that I might unloose the flaming steeds As Elynittria use'd to do; but too well those living creatures Knew that I was not Elynittria, and they brake the traces But me, the servants of the Harrow saw not: but as a bow Of varying colours on the hills; terribly rag'd the horses."