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The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (c.1790-93)

Milton's Paradise Lost is an epic poem, written in blank verse, that is an imaginative retelling of the story of the Fall of Man from the biblical account in the Book of Genesis. The narrative extends to encompass Christ's atonement for the original sin of Adam and Eve, which had led to their expulsion from Paradise. The book was first published in 1667 and is recognized as one of the great works of English literature.

Milton's heroic cadences and sublime characters and themes had special appeal for artists at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the desire to create a distinctively English school of history painting was shared by artists whose opinions could otherwise differ greatly (eg. Sir Joshua Reynolds and Blake). Henry Fuseli was one artist close to Blake who executed a series of important paintings on Miltonic themes.

Although Blake disagreed with some of Milton's religious views, notably on sin and redemption, Milton's writings were a very important source of subject matter for his art throughout his life. Blake's earliest series of illustrations to Paradise Lost date from 1807. A second set of twelve watercolours was made (at the request of Thomas Butts) in 1808. In 1820 the artists John Linnell - the most important patron of Blake's last years - commissioned copies in watercolour of the complete Butts set. Two of these are now in the Gallery's collection. They are close copies of the Butts watercolours, but executed with a miniaturist's touch instead of the broader wash style of the earlier works.


Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve

The Creation of Eve


(c)1999 National Gallery of Victoria