Pity

Artist: William Blake (British, London 1757–1827 London)

Subject: William Shakespeare (British, Stratford-upon-Avon 1564–1616 Stratford-upon-Avon)

Date: ca. 1795

Medium: Relief etching, printed in color and finished with pen and ink and watercolor

Dimensions: sheet: 16 5/8 x 20 3/4in. (42.2 x 52.7cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, transferred from European Paintings, 1958

Accession Number: 58.603

Description

The existence of a unique proof print at the British Museum, in which Blake experimented with his technique on a small scale, suggests that Pity was the first large color print produced by the artist. The child and rider illustrate a double simile from Shakespeare's Macbeth (1:7), in which Macbeth considers the pitiable reaction to his murder of Duncan in terms of vulnerability and vengeance, the human and the supernatural:
And pity, like a naked newborn babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.

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