Today I am once again dipping my toe into the strange world of William Blake the 18th century painter, printer, book illustrator and poet. I went through his life story in a couple of my earlier blogs (October 30th and November 1st) and if you haven’t read them I urge you to go to them now before you read about this painting as it may just give you a better understanding as to why an artist would depict such weird but wonderful scenes. My Daily Art Display featured painting today has three titles. It is usually known as The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy but is often referred to as The Triple Hecate or simply The Hecate. It is a colour print finished in ink and watercolour on paper.
If, like me, you have never heard of Enitharmon or Hecate, let me take you into Blake’s strange world of mythopoeia, his own fictional mythology. We are all used to hearing tales of Greek and Roman mythology but William Blake made up his own mythology with its own characters. I suppose he can be compared with Tolkien and his stories of Middle Earth or C S Lewis and his tales of Narnia. For Blake, who all his life experienced visions of heavenly bodies whom he would communicate with, his mythological characters were real.
Enitharmon is a major female character in William Blake’s mythology and she plays a major role in some of his prophetic books. In this work Blake portrays her as an androgynous Hecate, one with a combination of male and female characteristics, as can be seen in this coloured print. Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft and you may have come across her in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She appeared to the three witches in the play, as they sat around their bubbling cauldron, she came to them demanding to know why she has been excluded from their meetings with Macbeth. To William Blake she represents female domination and sexual restraints that limit the artistic imagination. After her birth, Enitharmon asserts that women will rule the world, with Man being given Love and Women being given Pride. This would create within men a fear of female dominance that would in turn bring them under control of the females.
Do you remember the famous lines spoken by the three witches in Macbeth as they surrounded the cauldron?
“Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
It is therefore not a coincidence that in Blake’s print we can see a frog or a toad, a bat and a snake? The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy is a large colour print and is plate 5 of Europe, a book written by Blake in 1794 which has the opening line:
“..Now comes the night of Enitharmon’s joy!..”
In the book, Enitharmon sets the trap of false religion which dominated Europe, for eighteen hundred years between the time of Christ’s birth and the French Revolution. The night of Enitharmon’s joy is when she establishes her Woman’s World with its false religion of chastity and vengeance. Blake used pen and ink to give strong outlines to the figures, and to draw locks of hair, the bat, and the donkey’s mane and rough coat. The owl has eyes which have been highlighted with a bright opaque red wash. The figures have been given form and roundness by washes of intense but transparent colour. The sky is dark as are the lichen-covered rocks in the left of the work. A strange-looking evil winged spectre hovers above Enitharmon’s head as a large donkey to the left nibbles on what little vegetation can be found amongst the rocks.
This is yet another weird work by Blake and once again I hesitate to think what was constantly going through his mind as he conjured up these images.