“Ancient of Days”

William Blake, "Ancient of Days," 1794, watercolor etching.
William Blake, “Ancient of Days,” 1794, watercolor etching.

William Blake was a strange character that’s for sure. Known more for his poetry than his art – he is a leading figure of the Romantic movement (not to be confused with romantic love – but the romanticizing of emotion & aesthetic experience.) While he may not be a household name now – in league with Lewis and Tolkein, Blake is known for creating complex worlds and social structures in his poetry. Here we see Urizen, the embodiment of reason and law, holding a compass with which he is measuring & containing the universe. While our first look may draw parallels between this fictional deity and Zeus, or (as it is said to be, and suggested by the title) influenced by the God of the Old Testament, he is really anything but. Urizen is more an embodiment of the prideful man or the fallen angel than he is of the God of Scripture. It’s an interesting case study to try and interpret today – are we looking at a representation of ourselves? Our desire to be the masters of our domain; constantly measuring, judging and reasoning our way through life?

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