Index Bibliography

Illustrations to Milton's "Paradise Lost"

Currently Available:

Illustrations to Milton's "Paradise Lost", The Thomas Set, 1807 (Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery): electronic edition

Dates are the probable dates of composition.

The poetry of John Milton was important to Blake as both poet and artist from his earliest years. As he told John Flaxman in a letter of 12 September 1800, "Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face" (Erdman page 707). Several early drawings, such as the Satan, Sin, and Death of c. 1780 (Butlin 101), were probably inspired by Milton. In 1790-92, Blake loosely sketched several illustrations to Paradise Lost in his Notebook (Butlin 201; see Related Works, below). He composed his first series of water colors illustrating one of Milton's poems in 1801 when the Rev. Joseph Thomas commissioned the eight designs for Comus (Butlin 527). In 1807, Blake produced the set of Paradise Lost designs presented here (Butlin 529, sometimes called the "small" set). These were also acquired, and probably commissioned, by Thomas. The date of composition is established by the "1807" date inscribed on five of the designs. Blake executed another series of twelve Paradise Lost designs, with a larger format, in 1808 for his chief patron Thomas Butts (Butlin 536). In this later group, eleven of the designs are variants of those in the Thomas set, but the fourth design of 1807, "Satan Spying on Adam and Eve and Raphael's Descent into Paradise," is replaced with a different subject, "Adam and Eve Asleep." Blake began a third series of Paradise Lost designs for John Linnell in 1822 (Butlin 537), but apparently completed only the three water colors now extant.

Here, as usual in his work as an illustrator of other poets' works, Blake paid close attention to the text, but this disciplined approach did not preclude his own interpretations. For example, Blake's choice of subjects places greater emphasis on Christ's role in Milton's epic than most series of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century illustrations of Paradise Lost.

Blake's literary response to the life and works of John Milton finds its fullest expression in the illuminated book Milton a Poem.

Related Works

Related works currently available in the William Blake Archive appear as links below. Works not currently available appear as plain text.

  • Satan Approaching the Court of Chaos (recto and verso)
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1780. Butlin 102.
    Yale Center for British Art
    Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Satan, Sin, and Death
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1780. Butlin 101.
    Humanities Research Center
    University of Texas, Austin, Texas
  • Warring Angels: Michael Contending with Satan
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1780. Butlin 104.
    Philadelphia Museum of Art
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Warring Angels: Michael Contending with Satan
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1780. Butlin 104A.
    Bolton Museum and Art Gallery
    Bolton, Lancashire
  • Warring Angels: Michael Contending with Satan
    Pen and ink drawing, c. 1780. Butlin 103.
    Untraced
  • The House of Death
    Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1790. Butlin 259.
    Tate Collection at Tate Britain
    London
  • Blake's Notebook, pages 88, 90, 91, 96, 102, 104, 108, 110-12, 114
    Pencil sketches, c. 1790-95. Butlin 201.88, 90, 91, 96, 102, 104, 108, 110-12, 114.
    British Library
    London
  • Warring Angels: Michael Contending with Satan
    Pencil sketch, c. 1795. Butlin 105.
    British Museum
    London
  • Eve and Satan (?)
    Pencil sketch, c 1795 (?). Butlin 293.
    Untraced
  • The House of Death
    Planographic color print, 1795. Butlin 320.
    Tate Collection at Tate Britain
    London
  • The House of Death
    Planographic color print, 1795. Butlin 322.
    Fitzwilliam Museum
    Cambridge, England
  • Satan Calling Up his Legions, An Experiment Picture
    Tempera painting, c. 1800. Butlin 661.
    Victoria and Albert Museum
    London
  • Satan Calling Up his Legions
    Tempera painting, c. 1800-05. Butlin 662.
    National Trust, Petworth House
    Sussex, England
  • Eve Tempted by the Serpent
    Pencil sketch, c. 1805-10. Butlin 589 recto.
    Victoria and Albert Museum
    London
  • The Fall of the Rebel Angels (?)
    Pencil sketch, c. 1805-10. Butlin 588 recto.
    Tate Collection at Tate Britain
    London
  • Satan Calling Up His Legions
    Pencil sketch, c. 1805-10. Butlin 590.
    University of Texas Library
    Austin, Texas
  • A Standing Figure (Satan?) and Two Drawings of Heads
    Chalk drawing, c. 1805-10 (?). Butlin 591.
    Collection of Robert N. Essick
    Altadena, California
  • Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve
    Water color, 1806. Butlin 531.
    Fogg Art Museum
    Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Sketch for "Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve"
    Pencil sketch, c. 1806. Butlin 532.
    Fitzwilliam Museum
    Cambridge, England
  • Sketch for "Satan Watching the Endearments of Adam and Eve"
    Pencil sketch, c. 1806-07. Butlin 533.
    British Museum
    London
  • Satan, Sin, and Death: Satan Comes to the Gates of Hell
    Pencil sketch, with additions in pen and water color not by Blake, c. 1807. Butlin 530.
    John Work Garrett Library
    Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Sketch for "The Creation of Eve"
    Pencil sketch, c. 1807. Butlin 535.
    British Museum
    London
  • Sketch for "Raphael Warns Adam and Eve"
    Pencil sketch, c. 1807. Butlin 534.
    British Museum
    London
  • Twelve Illustrations to Milton's "Paradise Lost": The Large Butts Set
    Water colors, 1808. Butlin 536.
    Design 1: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
    Design 2: Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California
    Designs 3-9, 11, 12: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
    Design 10: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts