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Newton is a monotype William Blake, first completed in 1795, but reworked and reprinted in 1805. It is one of the 12 Large Colour Prints or Large Colour Printed Drawings created between 1795 and 1805, which also include his series of images on the biblical ruler Nebuchadnezzar.

Blake's opposition to the Enlightenment was deeply rooted, since the artist believed that "Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death". Newton's theory of optics was especially offensive to Blake, who made a clear distinction between the vision of the "vegetative eye" and spiritual vision. The Deistic philosophy, recognizing God as a distant creator, but denying supernatural and mystical revelations, was anathema to Blake. He claimed to regularly experience visions of a spiritual nature. He contrasts his "four-fold vision" to the "single vision" of Newton, whose "natural religion" of scientific materialism he characterized as sterile. Newton was incorporated into Blake's infernal trinity along with the philosophers Francis Bacon and John Locke.

In this watercolour-finished print we can see Blake of necessity adopting a symbolic or satiric camouflage, a device with which he concealed his fiercely critical intent. The first thing which we notice about Blake’s Newton is that, as in the artist’s depiction of a two-eyed and two-handed Nelson taming the Leviathan, a literal resemblance is neither apparent nor intended. What's portrayed by Blake is an idealised essence, an idea-form of Newton.

The scientist is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll that is made from the white drape hanging redundant over his left shoulder and denoting a celestial nature. His paradise is a world of pure geometry without life difficulties. He is so absorbed in his work that doesn't even notice the beauty of nature behind his back. Blake expresses his contempt for the flattering worship of Newton, which is embodied in the epitaph by Alexander Pope:

"Nature and Nature's laws
Lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be!
and all was light."

Blake’s satire lies in the fact that Newton crouched above his calculations, sitting on the chill bench that has the distinct appearance of a bidet or commode. Enthroned, a god of knowledge showers his pearls of wisdom on the species through a process of mere peristalsis, heedless of the fact that mankind’s dream-life is thus rendered a materialist latrine.

It should be noted that Newton – and very few of his contemporaries knew about it – spent about 30 years of his life conducting alchemical research. It was only in 1936 when it became known about the existence of his huge manuscript archive concerning alchemy and religion. Those papers include many rewritten prayers for the bestowal of the philosopher's stone, promises not to use it for his own enrichment and to protect the secret from sinners. Historians and biographers do not have a unanimous opinion about the reasons the scientist engaged in such experiments.

Blake's Large Colour Prints were a series of colour prints, including Newton, which were painted on millboard, after which the board was put through the printing-press with a sheet of dampened paper to make the prints. Such prints unusually have no accompanying text, but Blake's series seem to have been conceived in contrasting pairs. In this case, Newton, as suggested by art historians, is the opposite of Nebuchadnezzar. Blake saw Newton as the symbol of the repression of the Imagination and the creative, artistic spirit by reason while his Nebuchadnezzar, whom God turned into an animal for unbelief and pride, symbolizes the man who has become a slave to the senses. Pure sensuality, like pure reason, is seen by the artist as antipathetic to Imagination.

In 1995, Blake's print served as the basis for Eduardo Paolozzi's (a Scottish sculptor of Italian descent) bronze sculpture Newton, which resides in the piazza of the British Library.

Author: Vlad Maslov
William Blake. Newton
Newton
William Blake
1805, 46×60 cm
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Nebuchadnezzar is a colour monotype print with additions in ink and watercolour illustrating the fourth chapter of the Bible's Book of Daniel. It portrays the Old Testament Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who had a strange dream and asked his advisor Daniel to interpret it. The latter said that the ruler would be punished, and the punishment would end after seven years when he would acknowledge the supreme power in heaven. So it happened: the stuck-up Nebuchadnezzar "was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." (Daniel 4:33) He only returned to his true human form in seven years, when he raised his eyes toward heaven and praised God.

According to the biographer Alexander Gilchrist, in Blake's print the viewer is faced with the "mad king crawling like a hunted beast into a den among the rocks; his tangled golden beard sweeping the ground, his nails like vultures' talons, and his wild eyes full of sullen terror. The powerful frame is losing semblance of humanity, and is bestial in its rough growth of hair, reptile in the toad-like markings and spottings of the skin, which takes on unnatural hues of green, blue, and russet."

The man is rendered by Blake extremely animalistic. The muscular body of the King clearly indicates that he isn't actually a beast, and once was a great man. But his torso is covered with hair, resembling muscles, and the nails on his fingers and toes turn into claws. Viewer's attention is most attracted to the haunted human eyes of Nebuchadnezzar: he gazes at the ground, face twisted in an expression of shock and disgust. This could be the moment of reason, when the king recognized his humanity, and "blessed the most High, and praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion..." (Daniel, 4:34).

It seems that the realization of one’s human nature and the fact that it is in the power of God is the main theme of this work. The only real difference between this figure, the most powerful king in the world, and an animal is self-recognition. In the Bible, the only difference is God’s will, but with knowledge of Blake’s opinion on religion we can allow the interpretation to widen. This reading into the subtext of the story leads to an exploration of the subtleties of the difference between humans and other animals.

Nebuchadnezzar was part of the so-called Large Colour Prints; a series begun in 1795 of twelve colour monotype prints. These were painted on millboard, after which the board was put through Blake's printing-press with a sheet of dampened paper to make the prints. After they were printed, Blake and his wife Catherine added ink and watercolour to the impressions. It existed in four impressions (copies), which are now in: Tate Britain in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the fourth one which has been missing since 1887.

Such prints unusually have no accompanying text, but Blake's series seem to have been conceived in contrasting pairs, such as Newton and Nebuchadnezzar. What comparison is the author making here? What does the choice of characters, their poses, colours and contrasting light against dark suggest?

In the age of Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Newton and his rational, scientific explanations for the world seemed almost a God – but not to Blake! He saw Newton as the symbol of the repression of the Imagination and the creative, artistic spirit by reason and the embodiment of the idea that everything can be measured and understood. In contrast, Nebuchadnezzar is shown turning into an animal, symbolising for Blake the bestiality of the man who has become a slave to the senses. Pure sensuality, like pure reason, is seen by the artist as antipathetic to Imagination.

Author: Vlad Maslov
William Blake. Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar
William Blake
1805, 54.3×72.5 cm
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Portrait of Bianca degli Utili Maselli with Her Six Children is an intimate family portrait painted by Lavinia Fontana in Rome at the very beginning of the 17th century. It is one of her finest portraits and one of the few works known from this period of her career. The painting of Bianca degli Utili, wife of the nobleman Pierino Maselli, with six of her children, provides an invaluable insight into the fashion of the time.

The text of an epigraph on Bianca's tomb revealed that she was of Florentine origin, married the Roman Cavalier Pierino Maselli, and died in September 1605 at the age of 37 after giving birth to her nineteenth child. This terminus ante quem for the execution of the work means that there is a quite short window of around twelve months for the execution of the portrait as Lavinia was not documented in Rome until 28 April 1604. She is also known to have still been in Bologna on 19 February 1603.

The portrait is divided into two asymmetrical and contrasting sections. The three children to the left gaze out directly at the viewer; they appear still, well-behaved and sit attentively to the artist. Conversely, the three boys to the right of the composition are shown as rather more playful and animated. Two of them look at each other as opposed to the viewer, creating a less formal mood.

The portrait is remarkable for its meticulous attention to the detail, including Bianca's floral hairband, the embroidered costumes the textures shown. It can be compared to the earlier Portrait of a Noblewoman in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. The five boys wear outfits made from the same rich material while mother and daughter wear different, even more expensive dresses. The woman and the girl also wear the elaborate jewelry – the gold earrings and the pearls. While the cuffs of all the clothes differ slightly, all wear very similar sumptuous ruffs and particular attention has been paid to depicting the play of light and shadow on these.

Despite the elegance of the clothes and the formal setting, the portrait stands out for its sympathetic approach to the sitters and for the tender family context in which they are shown. Nearly all the figures are seen busying themselves by holding objects. The boy upper left is shown with a colorful bird tied to a little chain (the bird might be a goldfinch symbolizing the Passion of Christ, which allows us to assume that the child was destined for a spiritual career). His brother below him holds a plate of fruit, the second brother, upper right, holds a medallion with the figure of a knight, and the third one – a pen and inkpot. The objects probably allude to their future professions. To the right, the middle boy's hands cannot be seen but the movement of his body suggests that his hands are not idle.

The girl named Verginia holds her mother's forefinger in her right hand, and with her left hand tenderly plays with the paw of the little dog on Bianca's arm, which underlines her loyalty as a wife. Though Bianca is shown here with five of her sons, particular attention seems to be drawn to her daughter. She is the only child whom the mother is hugging and she is the only one to have her name inscribed above her head. It may well be that the portrait was painted specifically for her or in her honour, all the more so since we know that the painting remained until recently in the family of her immediate successors.

This important addition to a relatively mature Roman phase in Lavinia's career is a testament to her abilities as a portrait- and costume-painter. The details of the elaborate clothing and the varied psychological portrayal of so many characters is only matched by one of her masterpieces, The Queen of Sheba's Visit to Solomon, in the National Gallery of Dublin, Ireland.

In January 2012, the Portrait of Bianca degli Utili Maselli with Her Six Children was put up for Sotheby’s auction with an initial estimate of $ 200 - 300 thousand, and sold for $ 602.5 thousand.

Author: Vlad Maslov
Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of Bianca degli Utili Maselli with her six children
Portrait of Bianca degli Utili Maselli with her six children
Lavinia Fontana
1605, 99×133.5 cm
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Pop culture of the 20th and 21st centuries subjected the viewers to such a diverse range of frightening images that it would seem strange to be afraid of smiling spiders or floating winged heads which the artist drew in the 19th century. But the fact is that Odilon Redon had no intention of frightening anyone. Above all things, those mysterious images born of imagination were Redon's way of learning the world and being a part of it. And that world moved beyond the present and visible space. Redon went deep – to where everything began and everything was possible. To where the world was born out of chaos, was versatile, tried on bizarre forms and probed endless variants of viable creatures and phenomena.

Redon saw little point in depicting reality. And yet, he was obsessed with a meticulous, almost scientific study of its small, minor components. He drew blades of grass, stones and pieces of peeling plaster on the old wall – and created a vast catalogue of patterns used by nature in its craft. Studying at the architectural school, a long friendship with the well-known and enthusiastic botanist Armand Clavaud, his own solitary walks in the thickets and forests provided Redon with the understanding of "visual logic" – he was getting a better grasp of how an imaginary image should be depicted in order to be perceived as a real one. His monsters look as if they were created by nature itself. And that realness, consistency, and even casualness of Redon's monsters is scarier than zombies rising from the dead and spitting green slime or ghosts of little girls from another horror movie, squeezing adrenaline from its viewers.

"My originality consists in bringing to life, in a human way, improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting – as far as possible – the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible," said Redon.

The lithography Marsh Flower belongs to the Homage to Goya series, which Redon released in 1885 in an edition of 50 copies (the later second edition included 25 copies). The album consisted of only 6 lithographs not sharing any common symbolic meaning or philosophical maxim. Except that one ingenious visionary was inspired by the bizarre fantasies of the other one. Here’s a head of a wise goddess brought by the morning drowse – her hair is full of accessories, or fragments of ancient rocks, or the fused shells of prehistoric oceanic molluscs. And here we've got the creatures-embryos of the plainest shape, but with frightfully sad, tired eyes: they must have been waiting to be born for a thousand years. A madman in the midst of an extinct, withered landscape. Still, The Marsh Flower is the scariest lithography of the series, since here the invisible with all the visual logic becomes visible.

The endless marsh touches the horizon – it's either the world before the birth of the land, or the one where the firm ground is not conceived by the creator. The flower with a human face, in which, without much effort, it is possible to see a bizarre anatomy, either that of a vegetable, or a human: veins-stems, blood-juice, sharp wrinkles, foreshadowing the rapid withering, inner shining, which turns out to be the only possible action. And embryonic buds ripening in transparent cocoons, which are awaited by the same contemplative stillness and infinitely long growing-up in the world where land is not conceived. In the world where there's nothing else to see except the marsh. In the world where you are sure to ripen and illuminate this impenetrable depth of muddy water.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova
Odilon Redon. The Marsh Flower, a Sad Human Head
The Marsh Flower, a Sad Human Head
Odilon Redon
1885, 27.5×20.5 cm
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The flowers of the mature Redon look like the real ones. They are placed in the vases and consist of visible parts: stems, petals and leaves. They are naively natural and carelessly harmonious in the bouquets. And yet, a long close look at Redon's floral still lifes gives the viewers the willies. Some touchingly sensible researchers even claim that the floral still lifes of the 60-year-old Redon are crazier and scarier than his early beasts and monsters drawn in charcoal. When it gets to critics, it isn't about the real fright of a spectator, but rather about a professional way of drawing attention to Redon's bouquets and explaining their non-randomness in the visionary, dreamy, imaginative world of the artist.

In his youth, Redon drew in charcoal and printed his famous noirs in one colour: sad human heads growing on thin stems in the marshes and the concentrated young human-faced flower buds swaying on thin stems above the bowl, similar to the ritual one (the artist's illustrations to Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil). In Redon's mature "colour" works, typically made in pastel, the flowers grow from nowhere: they blossom in the sky above the Buddha's head, twine around Ophelia, soar in the weightlessness of space or in laboratory sterility, full of colour spots disintegrated into stamens and seeds. The unidentified galaxies, the unattributed worlds, concealing a special internal rhythm and inertia of the emerging life.

It is clear that Redon's flowers are living and complex organisms.

In the 1900s, he painted floral still lifes mostly because they did well. Bouquets in vases: sometimes one can recognize camomiles and poppies, nasturtiums and cornflowers in them. Sometimes his flowers are imaginary: unearthly, non-existent, inaccessible to identification by botanical atlases. Still, while creating commercially popular still-lifes, Redon never changed himself to get an obvious profit. Redon remained Redon.

In 1907, French art critics George Athénas and Aimé Merlo, using a pen name Marius-Ary Leblond, published the first article-justification for Redon's flowers in the journal Revue illustrée. The artist, rarely mentioned in the press before, was delighted with the article and said that he finally felt alive and rewarded for his changes. Leblond wrote: "Amazed to the point of anxiety by the shades of the flower, astonished to the point of a most naïve adoration of its form, he was soon struck by the revelation that nothing is more mysterious than nature itself, and from that moment he became absorbed in its clarity just as he had plumbed the deep recesses of his imagination. He painted flowers exactly as we know them and just as we see them: geraniums amongst velvety leaves, marguerites, quivering clumps of acacia, orange wallflowers and nasturtiums, and with their slender stems bursting forth, their dazzling corollas fixed, and their sparkling nuances of colour suspended in time, it seemed as if these flowers had just appeared before our very eyes, through a miracle. When we look at them, we too emerge from the shadows."

Redon remained an artist who sought the supernatural, the invisible. But inevitably accumulating the experience of observing nature, he discovered that there was no need to invent anything anymore. There was nothing more mystical than nature itself.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova
Odilon Redon. Flowers
Flowers
Odilon Redon
61.9×47.6 cm
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Among Christus's best known works, A Goldsmith in his Shop, signed and dated 1449, is also perhaps his most enigmatic. This view into a goldsmith's stall, where a fashionably dressed couple chooses a wedding ring, conveys a sense of the opulent world of 15th-century burghers.

The goldsmith was once identified as Saint Eligius, who brought Christianity to Flanders and was associated in Bruges with the guilds of the gold- and silversmiths, the blacksmiths and metalworkers, and (along with Saint Luke) the painters and saddle makers. Still, it is more likely a vocational painting, depicting the profession of goldsmithing and perhaps a particular goldsmith.

Technical analysis reveals the underdrawing of the goldsmith's face to be very fully modelled – more so than the faces of the bridal couple – suggesting the possibility of a portrait. The art historian Hugo van der Velden suggested that Christus portrayed Willem van Vleuten, a Bruges goldsmith who worked for Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. In 1449, the date of this painting, the duke commissioned from van Vlueten a gift for Mary of Guelders for her marriage to James II, King of Scots. That couple may well be depicted in this painting.

The diversity of finely crafted objects at the right serves as a kind of advertisement for the goldsmiths’ guild. Included are raw material of the trade – coral, crystal, porphyry, open sacks of seed pearls, and a string of beads – and finished products made from them – brooches, rings, and a belt buckle. The crystal container on the lower shelf was probably meant for storing Eucharistic wafers, and the pewter vessels above are presentkannen, or donation pitchers, which the city’s aldermen offered to distinguished guests. The assemblage of objects thus presents gold- and silversmiths in the service of both religious and secular communities.

The Eyckian device of the convex mirror reflects two young men with a falcon, symbolising pride and greed. Thus Christus establishes a moral comparison between the imperfect world of the viewer and the world of virtue and balance of the protagonists.

Author: Vlad Maslov
Petrus Christus. A Goldsmith in his Shop (Saint Eligius)
A Goldsmith in his Shop (Saint Eligius)
Petrus Christus
1449, 100.1×85.8 cm
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