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Blake’s Satan bears none of the marks of depravity or bestiality that one might expect. Many 18th-century artists were heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Satan appears as a sublimely heroic figure. In Blake’s picture, Satan’s evil nature may be seen to be distilled in the form of the snake. Lavater derived his reading of this creature from conventional Christian philosophy, but based his description on the paradoxical notion of the snake’s lack of form. ‘What has less, yet more physiognomy, than the serpent?’, he asks. ‘Can we not perceive in it tokens of cunning and treachery?’

March 2011