Wednesday, August 06, 2014

INSPIRATION IS MY ELEMENT

British Museum
Photogravure of Blake's Life Mask
In Blake's time phrenology was a popular attempt to link the activities of the brain with the shape of the skull. Attempts were made to predict both intellectual abilities and behavioral characteristics by measuring and mapping the heads of numerous individuals. To accommodate his neighbor, the phrenologist de Ville, Blake had a life mask made in 1823. De Ville was interested in Blake's skull as an example of the characteristic imagination. The mask is disappointing as a portrayal of Blake's face because of the discomfort of being enclosed in hardening plaster.
 

In the British Museum is an image of the mask produced in photogravure, an early photographic technique which is still used to produce high quality art prints. The photograph was formerly in the collection of William Blake Richmond, the son of George Richmond who was in the group of young followers of Blake who called themselves 'The Ancients.'  The gentle, introverted man, confident in himself and determined to follow his course, is better captured in this undated print than in the other photographs of the life mask.
 

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's remark about the goal of his life:
Acts 20
[24] But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 648)
"Knowledge of Ideal Beauty. is Not to be Acquired It is Born
with us Innate Ideas. are in Every Man Born with him. they are
 Himself.  The Man who says that we have No Innate Ideas
must be a Fool & Knave." 

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 656)
"If Art was Progressive We should have had Mich Angelo's &
Rafaels to Succeed & to Improve upon each other But it is not so. 
Genius dies Possessor & comes not again till Another is Born with
It
...
Reynolds Thinks that Man Learns all that he Knows I say on
the Contrary That Man Brings All that he has or Can have Into the
World with him.  Man is Born Like a Garden ready Planted & Sown  
This World is too poor to produce one Seed"

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 660)
"Inspiration & Vision was then & now
is & I hope will
always Remain my Element my Eternal Dwelling place. how can I
then hear it Contemnd without returning Scorn for Scorn" 
Letters, (E 714)
[To William Hayley]
" Time flies very fast and very
merrily.  I sometimes  try to be miserable that I may do more
work, but find it is a  foolish experiment.  Happinesses have
wings and wheels; miseries  are leaden legged and their whole
employment is to clip the wings  and to take off the wheels of
our chariots.  We determine,  therefore, to be happy and do all
that we can, tho' not all that  we would."

Letters, (E 723)
[To] Mr Butts, 
"I am now engaged in Engraving 6 small plates for a New
Edition of Mr Hayleys Triumphs of Temper. from drawings by Maria
Flaxman sister to my friend the Sculptor and it seems that other
things will follow in course if I do but Copy these well. but
Patience! if Great things do not turn out it is because
such things depend on the Spiritual & not on the
Natural World & if it was fit for me I doubt not that I should be
Employd in Greater things & when it is proper my Talents shall be
properly exercised in Public. as I hope they are now in private.
for till then.  I leave no stone unturnd & no path unexplord that
tends to improvement in my beloved Arts.  One thing of real
consequence I have accomplishd by coming into the country. which
is to me consolation enough, namely.  I have recollected all my
scatterd thoughts on Art & resumed my primitive & original ways
of Execution in both painting & Engraving. which in the confusion
of London I had very much lost & obliterated from my mind.  But
whatever becomes of my labours I would rather that they should be
preservd in your Green House (not as you mistakenly call it dung
hill). than in the cold
gallery of fashion.--The Sun may yet shine & then they will be
brought into open air."

3 comments:

Susan J. said...

wow! an actual life mask! I had no idea such a thing existed... thanks!!

ellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ellie said...

Photography hadn't been invented in Blake's day. But through the life mask and the photogruave we come close to having a photo of the man himself.

He wanted his work to be seen and read and understood but having an image of himself displayed would have been low priority.

Blake did however set store in 'man earthly lineaments' as indicated in this quote:
"But I knew not that it was Milton, for man cannot know
What passes in his members till periods of Space & Time
Reveal the secrets of Eternity: for more extensive
Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments."

Good to hear from you Susan.