This work 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"
Here, Shakespeare’s similes are embodied to create a dynamic interplay where a baby springs from his mother towards an angel mounted on a blind steed. The artist inventively mixed relief etching with colors printed from millboard to produce this image, then used ink and watercolor to define details. Blake called prints like this one "frescoes" and considered them part of a greater narrative sequence.
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Artist:William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London)
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)
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, 1958, transferred from European Paintings
Inscription: signed lower right: "W Blake inv." inscribed on the verso at center: "Pity from Shakespeare's Macbeth"; and lower right: "Pity" (text cut by trimming of paper)
(?) Catherine Blake (British), wife of the artist; (?) Frederick Tatham (British); W. Fuller Maitland (British); Robert W. Goelet (American); Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, widow of the preceding
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," September 19–November 27, 1994.
London. Tate Britain. "William Blake," November 9, 2000–February 11, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "William Blake," March 29–June 24, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 10–July 9, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 4–June 12, 2011.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 12–July 18, 2016.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Innocence and Experience: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints," February 9, 2023–May 16, 2023.
William Michael Rossetti "Annotated Catalogue of Blake's Pictures and Drawings." in Life of William Blake. Edited by Alexander Gilchrist, vol. 2, London, 1863, cat. no. 218, p. 237.
The Works of William Blake. Exh. cat. Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, 1876, cat. no. 38.
William Michael Rossetti "The Blake Catalogue (review of exhibition at Burlington Fine Arts Club)." in Academy. vol. 9, 1876, p. 365.
William Michael Rossetti "Annotated Catalogue of Blake's Pictures and Drawings." in Life of WIlliam Blake. Edited by Alexander Gilchrist, vol. 2, 2nd enlarged ed., London, 1880, cat. no. 248, p. 252.
William Michael Rossetti The Rossetti Papers, 1862–1870. 1903, p. 17.
Walford Graham Robertson, William Michael Rossetti, Alexander Gilchrist Supplementary List (to Rossetti's "Annotated Catalogue") in Life of William Blake. 1907, cat. no. 2, p. 491.
John Ruskin The Works of John Ruskin. Sir Edward Tyas Cook, Alexander D. O. Wedderburn, 1909, pp. 32-33 (vol. 36).
William Blake, 1757–1827: A Descriptive Catalogue of An Exhibition of the Works of William Blake Selected from Collections in the United States Ex. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1939, exhibited but not in catalogue.
Walford Graham Robertson Letters from Graham Robertson. Kerrison Preston, 1953, p. 399.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. The Art of William Blake. Ex. cat., October-December. 1957, cat. no. 65.
Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University William Blake Ex. cat., February-March. 1965, cat. no. 32, ill.
Robert N. Essick William Blake, Printmaker. Princeton, 1980, Figs. 126, 127, pp. 132-34.
Martin Butlin The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake. Yale University Press, 2 vols., New Haven, 1981, pl. 411, vol. II, cat. no. 311, p. 169.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, Curator Constance C. McPhee takes a look at several works now on display in the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery that reflect on the Bard and his writing.
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