The Mission of Virgil

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The Mission of Virgil, 1824-27. William Blake. Blake was an extraordinarily individual visionary whose work epitomises the most famous quality of British art – its literary nature. Even when illustrating the work of other authors, Blake applied his own symbolism and world-view so that his illustrations are often really interpretations. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery own six watercolours from Blake's series of designs for illustrations to Dante's 'Divine Comedy' in which Virgil guides Dante through the stages of his spiritual salvation. Blake's view that organised religion is cruel and oppressive is shown here in the two figures at the top of the image representing Jehovah the 'Angry God', and religious and imperial power. The figures in flames represent mankind enslaved by ignorance and the repression of natural desires. Dante is shown from behind as he is about to step forward to the next stage of his own salvation.

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