Catalogue entry

N03363 The Primaeval Giants Sunk in the Soil 1824–7

N 03363 / B 812 60
Pencil, black chalk, pen and watercolour 372×527 (14 5/8×20 3/4)
Inscribed ‘HELL Canto 31’ in ink over pencil b.r. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘N52 next at p25’ centre, ‘Hell Canto 29’ b.l. and ‘27’ t.r., the last turned through a right-angle
Watermarked ‘WELGAR 1796’
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the National Art-Collections Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art-Collections Fund, 1919
PROVENANCE As for N03351
EXHIBITED RA 1893 (17); Tate Gallery (41 xii), Manchester (48 xii), Nottingham (42 xviii) and Edinburgh (68) 1913–14; Paris, Antwerp, Zurich and Tate Gallery 1947 (29 iii)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.220 no.101g2, and 1880, p.232 no.123g2; Damon 1924, p.219; Roc 1953, pp.112–20 no.60, repr.; Klonsky 1977, p.120, repr.; Klonsky 1980, pp.17, 151, pl.63; Butlin 1981, pp.574–5 no.812 60; Gizzi 1983, p.141 repr.

This is an illustration to Inferno XXXI, 19–45: Dante and Virgil, leaving the last trench of the eighth circle, come across the primaeval giants set waist deep in the bank. For Blake they symbolise the five senses bogged down in materialism. Blake devoted three futher designs to the giants, ‘The Complaint of the Giant Nimrod’ in the Fogg Art Museum, and ‘Ephialtes and Two other Titans’ and ‘Antaeus Setting Down Dante and Virgil in the Last Circle of Hell’, both in the National Gallery of Victoria (Butlin 1981, nos.812 61, 62 and 63; all repr. Roe 1953 pls.61, 62 and 63, Klonsky 1980, pls.64, 65 and 66, and Gizzi 1983, pp.142, 143 and 144, the last two also in colour pp.65–66); Dante does not name the other two giants.


Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990