Wild Thing

Blake Brings Heaven and Hell to the Met

After 1800, Blake leaves the littleness behind and makes a number of brilliant prints and watercolors based on Shakespeare, Milton, mythology, and the Bible, as well as the freaky-deaky pictures of Newton under the ocean and Nebuchadnezzar as the incredible crawling hulk. For me, Blake is best in the 122 illustrations he made for Dante's Divine Comedy during the last three years of his life. Sadly, only 11 are on view. These visionary gems are Blake's last testament, his odes to joy, and reconciliation of the cosmic rift. With them, Blake not only frees his hand and color, he unites the warring parts of his soul. His frenzied Beethoven side is finally at peace with his exquisite Mozart self.

One watercolor, The Inscription Over Hell-Gate, is less about the portal's terrifying "Abandon All Hope" inscription than it is about tenderness. Virgil gently leads Dante to Hell's entry, through which four earthly continents are visible, along with the submerged Atlantis. Joining the supernatural and the natural, the netherworld and our world, Blake shows us one last time that all opposites are one. Even Hell, he seems to say, is part of us.


"William Blake" continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, at 81st Street, through June 24.

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