{Vellichor} The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun

William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet and artist that, and as has become stereotypical of artists, wasn't regarded as highly while he was alive as he is now so many years after his death.

As a boy, he showed a proclivity towards art and was enrolled into the drawing academy of Henry Pars at age 10. He later went on to have a five-year apprenticeship with the engraver James Basire, before enrolling at the Royal Academy Schools as an engraver at the age of 21. Whilst going through all his official educational learning, he filled his private study time by researching medieval and Renaissance art. His big advancement in printmaking methods happened after the early death of his younger brother, Robert, in 1787. The method, which he claimed to have come by during a vision of his dead brother, was as follows:

He would paint his designs with oil and tempera paints mixed with chalks on a copperplate or piece of millboard. After that, he would press paper against the damp paint to pull the design. To finish, he would use inks and watercolours on the transferred design.

With this method, it was ensured that each pull would be unique and different from the ones before and after it. This was how he was able to create his illuminated books, as it also allowed him to etch both the text of his works and the illustrations together on a single plate. It gave him complete control over how the entire process happened and how the final product turned out, which was not common among his contemporaries. This method is referred to as the infernal method or illuminated printing.

By being able to etch, print, then paint his own work in his home (with an immense amount of help from his wife, Catherine), he was also able to sell his work from his own home. He was almost like the 18th century version of an Etsy seller of today. As you many expect if you know any artists who are doing their thing completely on their own like Blake, this new method didn't make it any cheaper to make his work, monetarily or for the amount of energy that went into the work. It didn't make him any more successful at distributing his work to the public, either. However, much like many artists of today, Blake wasn't concerned with the economic aspects of his work. He was only concerned with the aesthetics of it. Dude was ride or die for art as creation and not art as livelihood.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun

The one painting of Blake's that has always stood out to me is the second piece in the series of Great Red Dragon paintings, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun. The Great Red Dragon series is comprised of 4 paintings from a commission of 100+ paintings Blake did that were to illustrate The Bible for Thomas Butts - The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the SunThe Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in SunThe Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea, and The Number of the Beast is 666. They are all various scenes of The Great Red Dragon from the Book of Revelations, and the first two paintings are of the same scene from two different POVs.

What really draws me to this piece in particular would be the use of value contrast and how Blake used it in combination with the body language of his figures to create an ominous mood. The brightness of the Woman Clothed in Sun is so intense that it's illuminating areas a regular light source wouldn't. While the Great Red Dragon's back is highlighted, it's still dark enough in value to help create the sense that he is looming over her. To help this sense of looming is having her almost parallel to the horizon near his feet, with her face looking up toward his faces. Her facial expression gives the viewer the sense that things are not going well already or they're about to go pear-shaped quickly. Blake also does a great job of conveying the terror of the Great Red Dragon even without showing all his faces. The use of the horns, leathery wings, and tail are indicators of "evil" across many cultures, but I would also say that the over developed back muscles and his wide stance with outstretched wings also push a sense of dominance and control. The body language is extremely overbearing and suffocating and claustrophobic. There's a lot going on in this painting despite (or because of) it having a fairly simple composition and not a lot of detail to either figure.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman in these first two pieces show up at the beginning of Revelation 12:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

Blake was big into the duality of everything, it seems, and while the duality of good and evil can be suggested in the ...with the Sun piece by the body language of the Great Red Dragon and the Woman (their arms mimicking each other in position and reaching towards each other), I have a difficult time finding that in the ...in Sun piece. With ...in Sun, good (the Woman) and evil (the Great Red Dragon) appear as separate entities, with evil seeming as if it will conquer good.

Anyone who has read the Book of Revelation knows that the Great Red Dragon, or Satan, doesn't succeed in killing either the Woman or her child. The male child she gives birth to, a follower of God and the one who will eventually spread Christianity, is whisked away to God and the Woman is given wings to fly off to a place in the wilderness on Earth to hide out for a certain amount of time. The war in Heaven breaks out, Michael defeats Satan, and Satan falls to Earth where he decides to pull a Terminator and look for this woman he tried killing while she was pregnant and failed. He finds her, tries to kill her again, fails again, and ends up going to take out his disappointment at his continued failure on the rest of her offspring (who just so happen to also be followers of God and those who keep the testimony of Jesus going).

Blake combines the many scenes that happen in Chapter 12 into one scene for his first two Great Red Dragon pieces, and this seems to be pretty typical of the illustrations that he did of other's written work (like the engravings he did for Dante's Divine Comedy).

Of course, the other reason this piece draws me in is it being used for the Red Dragon movie and storyline in the television show Hannibal. I have to confess that I still haven't read the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, even though I feel like it might answer questions I have from the movie and that last season of Hannibal. I want to know why the character Francis Dolarhyde is obsessed with this painting, why he sees himself turning into The Great Red Dragon, was it seeing the painting that set him off on that route or was he already on the way there and the painting matched the story he was building for himself? Why did he eat the painting instead of destroying it some other way?

Of all the art that could possibly have the potential to incite the kind of violence of that character, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun isn't the first that comes to my mind. It isn't overtly violent or gory or anything, really. There isn't even any real nudity in it because the giant tail covers the parts our society would deem inappropriate. Everything about this painting that is terrifying is unseen. From what's happening to the Woman, to what's happening in the world they're a part of, we don't even see the Great Red Dragon's main face. It's like the painting equivalent of Lovecraft's writing - a psychological horror.

I also really enjoyed Richard Armitage in those black boxer briefs with that dragon tattoo down the entire length of his tall, lean body. That show really made me question a lot of things about myself.

Here are the other two painting in The Great Red Dragon series:

The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea

The Number of the Beast is 666

Post Script: I started this post before I got really sick with the birdemic/zombie flu. When I got back to it, I couldn't remember where I was going with it. TBI, what're you going to do, right? So, I'm posting it as it is and will come back if I remember where I was going.