From face values to inner visions: Blake and Lavater's perception of body and soul

Erle, S.I., 2004. From face values to inner visions: Blake and Lavater's perception of body and soul. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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This thesis explores how the late eighteenth-century cultural practice of physiognomy influenced William Blake's treatment of creation as embodiment in his 1790's creation myth, and also how the principles of phrenology, physiognomy's purportedly more scientific sibling, gave shape to the expressions of his sketches known as the Visionary Heads (c. 1819-25). This goes further to consider Blake's approach to likeness-making as part of a European wide debate on the representation of spirituality and the relationship between body and soul. These issues are widely discussed in the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and expanded on by Johann Caspar Lavater in his Essays on Physiognomy (1789-98) - and it will be argued here that this work is an unacknowledged precursor to Blake's Urizen Books, The Book of Urizen (1794), The Book of Ahania (1795) and The Book of Los (1795). This thesis takes an historical approach to the proposed Blake-Lavater connection and delineates the complex publishing history of the luxuriously illustrated Essays on Physiognomy. The copy-versus-original debate manifests itself not only in the work of Lavater's editors, but also in a problem of representation inherent in the copy engravings done for Essays on Physiognomy. Blake's engagement with Lavater's pseudo-scientific physiognomy led to a transposition of the copy-versus-original debate into Blake's Urizen Books. Indeed, the relationship between his two creator figures, Urizen and Los, exemplifies the struggle for an authentic representation of human character. [Deleuze (c.1969)] In an attempt to complement this discussion of Blake's belief in precise outline as conveying essential physiognomical meaning, this thesis also suggests Blake saw and used colour as an expressive medium. The historical context to Blake's colour experiments gives evidence of his great concern with painting techniques and also his awareness of the popular search for ancient colouring methods - notably the scandal of the Venetian Secret of c.1797. The visual effects achieved in the different versions of The Book of Urizen and especially in the Large Colour Prints of 1795/1804 can therefore usefully be discussed in terms of the original-versus-copy debate. The argument is that colour and in particular colour-printing enabled Blake to express his ideas about perfect, spiritualised and original bodies whose individuality is retained throughout all their copied representations.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Erle, S.I.
Date: 2004
ISBN: 9781369313352
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 28 Aug 2020 15:14
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2023 09:28

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