Thursday, August 28, 2014

William Blake, Newton

William Blake, Newton, 1795

Williams Blake (1757-1827) openly opposed the work of Isaac Newton and his colleagues.  He wrote that "art is the tree of life.  Science is the tree of death."  Blake opposed the exclusion of God from the mathematical, mechanical universe that Newton described, and likened the scientific revolution to black cloth folding over Europe.  Despite his overt rejection of Newtonian ideals, Blake was apparently unable to dispel the Newtonian universe from his thinking.  This monotype  shows obvious respect for the scientist, depicting him as a heroic nude, well muscled and physically perfect as he might be in Classical and Renaissance art.  However, rather than standing upright as he would be in those styles, Newton is sitting on a rock, his focus entirely absorbed in a geometric drawing he is creating with a compass.  Blake places Newton is a very strange setting.  The rock he is seated on is the most colorful thing in the picture.  It is covered in moss and swaths of blue and red that actually make it look subaqueous.  A vast abyss stretches out in the background, which could be either the night sky or the vast, dark ocean.  The scene reflects Proverbs 8:27, which reads in the King James version, "When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth."  Clearly Blake thinks Newton is to be revered, and, considering this Bible passage, actually likens him to a creator figure, but something is slightly amiss.  Rather than setting a compass to the "face of the deep" and inscribing the world, Newton is using his compass on a piece of paper.  Blake seems to think he was caught up in the theoretical and the mathematical, without simply observing and contributing to the wonder of God's creations around him.  I find this work quite fascinating, and when taken along with certain poems of Blake's, such as "Jerusalem" and "Auguries of Innocence", a very complex view of the Newtonian world emerges.

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