Pity

Artist: William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London)

Subject: William Shakespeare (British, Stratford-upon-Avon 1564–1616 Stratford-upon-Avon)

Date: ca. 1795

Medium: Relief etching, printed in color and finished with pen and ink and watercolor

Dimensions: sheet: 16 5/8 x 20 3/4in. (42.2 x 52.7cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, transferred from European Paintings, 1958

Accession Number: 58.603

Description

Blake was inspired by lines from Macbeth (act 1, scene 7), in which the title character imagines the aftermath of his intended murder of Duncan, the king:
"And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, hors’d 
Upon the sightless couriers of the air, 
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye"
Shakespeare’s similes are embodied here to form a dynamic interplay: a tiny baby springs from his mother towards an angel astride a blind steed. The artist inventively mixed relief etching with colors printed from millboard to produce the image, and then used ink and watercolor to define details. Blake called prints like this one "frescoes" and considered them part of a narrative sequence.

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