William Blake
The Punishment of the Thieves 1824–7

Artwork details

William Blake 1757–1827
The Punishment of the Thieves
Date 1824–7
Medium Chalk, ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 372 x 527 mm
Acquisition Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the the Art Fund 1919
Not on display

Display caption

The heavy musculature of these female figures creates a gender ambiguity that may have implied moral degeneracy to a 19th-century audience. The contorted central body offers a parody of the graceful contraposto of classical statues, while the other cropped or truncated figures lounge about licentiously. Dante describes the thieves being bitten by snakes, creatures that Lavater associates with ‘cunning and treachery’. Here, however, the snakes appear to emanate from the women’s genitals, suggesting that their criminal activity has given birth to an aberration.

March 2011

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