William Blake
The Good and Evil Angels 1795–?c. 1805

Artwork details

William Blake 1757–1827
The Good and Evil Angels
Date 1795–?c. 1805
Medium Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 445 x 594 mm
Acquisition Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939
On display at Tate Britain

Display caption

In his annotations to a text by Lavater, Blake claimed that ‘Active Evil is better than Passive Good’, rendering the figures in this picture somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps the chain attached to the ‘evil’ angel’s ankle suggests the curtailing of energy by misguided rational thought?

In constructing his figures, Blake evokes conventional eighteenth century stereotypes. The heavy build and darker skin of the ‘evil’ angel suggest a non-European character, described by Lavater as ‘strong, muscular, agile; but dirty, indolent and trifling’, while the fair hair and light skin of the ‘good’ angel are consonant with ideas of physical – and intellectual – perfection.

March 2011

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