‘Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face’
– William Bake on John Milton, September 1800
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) created three sets of illustrations for John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). There was a commission from the Reverend Joseph Thomas in 1807; another a year later commissioned by the artist’s patron Thomas Butts; and a final series in 1822, commissioned by John Linnell, who also hired Blake to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The first two sets each contained twelve paintings. The Thomas set is in pen and watercolour; the Butts set is more vividly coloured and almost twice the size of the earlier set. The final set was unfinished, with just three images known to have been completed.
It’s clear that Blake admired Milton. According to Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake, ‘Pictor ignotus’ (1863), Butts found Blake and his wife in their summer house in Lambeth, London, nude and reciting parts of the poem. Blake reportedly hailed, “Come in! … It’s only Adam and Eve, you know!”
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