Blake and "Gothic"
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Date: Sat, 18 Jul 1998 09:09:34 -0800
From: Marcus Brownell
Subject: Blake and "Gothic"
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Nelson Hilton wrote:
> On Thu, 9 Jul 1998, Marcus Brownell wrote:
> > I'd be interested to hear from anyone ... who knows of any
> > substantial studies on Blake's Gothic aesthetic.
> The most recent is William Richey's _Blake's Altering Aesthetic_ (U
> Missouri c 1996 but just out) which concludes that "much of what he
> celebrates as Gothic would be considered by most observers more
> characteristic of the classical .... the artistic idiom that Blake calls
> 'Gothic' bears little relation to any conventional definition of the term"
> Nelson Hilton -=- English -=- University of Georgia -=- Athens
> Was ist Los? "Net of Urizen" or "Jerusalem the Web"?
Unfortunately, recent transitions in my life have made libraries
temporarily inaccessible but I look forward to reading Richey's book
when I get the chance. If somebody wouldn't mind giving a thumbnail
sketch of Richey's understanding of the terms "classical" and "Gothic"
I'd be interested in what he has to say. In the meantime I'd like to
respectfully offer to the list my perception of Blake and Gothic forms.
The main characteristic that distinguishes the Gothic style from the
classical I take from W.J.T. Mitchell's _Composite Art_. He discusses
the painting _Epitome of James Hervey's 'Meditations among the Tombs'_
and compares the Gothic Arch with the vortex, emphasizing the spiritual
"gateway" quality of the pointed arch that characteristic of Gothic
"The peak of the Gothic arch is, for Blake, the center of the vortex.
the critical point of breaking out or through the vaulted ceiling,
whether it be the ceiling of a human structure , the Mundane Shell, or
I am quoting this from an old essay and I don't have the book with me,
but if my memory serves Mitchell goes on to contrast the pointed arch of
Gothic architectural style with the rounded art of classical
architecture. This observation has affected the way I perceive Blake's
use of images that show the point of Gothic architecture. I'd like to
discuss three themes that have further affected my reading of Blake and
the Gothic: the Gothic arch and the vortex, the Gothic arch and the
doorway, and Blake's "A Vision of the Last Judgment" and Gothic imagery
1) The painting _'Meditations among the Tombs'__ seems to bear a
striking resemblence to _Jacob's Dream_. Both have a vortex-like
stairway suggesting a connection to another world. The Gothic arch that
frames the stairway in _Meditations_ presents two compatible shapes
that exist on different planes, yet are presented in one identical space
on Blake's canvas. The arch is not drawn explicitly in _Jacob's Dream_,
but the theme of the bridging of two worlds within one space is
consistent. Both treat an -individual- who is in a heightened -state-
Also, in the well-known passage from _Milton_ , Blake describes the
nature of infinity as a vortex that the "traveller thro Eternity"
Thus is the heaven a vortex passd already, and the earth
A vortex not yet passd by the traveller thro Eternity. (Erdman 109)
The use of the pointed Gothic arch that is visually compatible with a
vortex, seems to be an example of Blake's preference for the stylistic
trait that is a distinguishing characteristic for Gothic style. I'd
venture to guess that Blake admired the ability of Gothic architecture
to encourage imaginations to be