Friday, June 22, 2012


 Center for British Art
Yale University
The Horse
c 1805
An image which Blake created for Hayley's Ballads was later reused for a small (4 3/16 x 2 1/2 inches) tempera painting on a copper engraving plate. The picture is now in the Mellon Collection of the Yale Center for British Art. 

The Human Form Divine, Patrick Noon comments:

"Another tempera that Mr. Mellon acquired at this time [1961],
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,

  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 [13], (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."   


Vincent said...

It's a wonderful blend of form and expression; I've no doubt that your interpretation of its meaning accords fully with Blake's intention.

But maybe the horse sometimes symbolizes something else as perhaps here:

robert clayton said...

Your wonderful comment suggests to me that you should be one of the owners of William Blake: Religion and Psychology. Ellie and I are both fairly innocent of Shakespeare (although we should have gone into it years ago; it was one of Blake's first sources). I'm sure the Shakespeare presence could well appears in many of our posts, but as I said we know little or no Shakespeare.

Many thanks from Ellie and me for your comment here.

ellie said...

I am afraid that I can speak very little to Blake's intention. I seek some meaning in what I see and read. What come to me (or through me) is from my imagination as conveyed by Blake from the Human Form Divine.

Another post:

Vincent said...

Ellie, as for Blake's intention, I'm sure it was to convey something to your imagination that corresponded to his. But I think you are too modest in this. I come here partly to discover more vividly the significance of Luvah, the Zoas, Los & all his other mythical characters: not by consulting a kind of glossary, but to learn from someone with a much wider grasp and familiarity with his works.

Larry, the Shakespearian aspect passed me by, really. I had used that Pegasus illustration for one of my blog posts a few years ago, without giving too much thought to its allegorical content. But the horse can signify different things, as indeed can the centaur, which I often use in lieu of a mugshot. To me it symbolises awareness of oneself as animal as well as divine. Fortuitously it appears on the weathervane atop the Guildhall building in our town square, which I use as the emblem of my blog.

But I come here solely to learn, and express appreciation through comments.