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Friday, August 10, 2012

John Martin (1789–1854)


The artist John Martin (1789–1854) from the North of England is gradually making a comeback and rightly so

Many of his works are religious in nature. But he was a deist, a Romantic and radical reformer

But it is the works dealing with the Apocalypse and other great and architectonic themes which are causing his reputation to rise again

Many see in his works the fantastic element in modern sci-fi illustrative works and in computer games graphics

One of his early works was a commission to do twenty four mezzotint engravings for an edition of "Paradise Lost" by John Milton - the great classical which few read these days.

Recently the Watt Library in Greenock discovered an early edition of the work with the illustrations by John Martin and put them on special exhibition

An interesting commentary on the mezzotints is available from the website of the Spaightwood Galleries, Inc.

Martin`s works have been described as "the summit of Romantic art"

His interest in Milton is not coincidental. At that time after the French Revolution and the social turmoil after the Napoleonic Wars, many poets and artists were inspired by their image of John Milton

Martin’s art was hugely popular with the public. But in his time  critics more often saw his art as tawdry, sensationalist and bombastic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge dismissed Martin as ‘a poor creature’, John Constable lamented his artistic ‘pantomimes’, and John Ruskin declared that his art was ‘merely a common manufacture, as much makeable to order as a tea-tray or a coal-scuttle’. The critics did not change their opinions in the 20th century 

Below are some of the mezzotints from the imperial octavo edition of 1827 as seen in the Greenock exhibition:


John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 44: 'Him the Almighty Power Hurl'd headlong from the ethereal sky' 
From Paradise Lost 
1827 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Mezzotint
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock


The full quotation from the epic poem is:
"He trusted to have equall’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battle proud
With vain attempt.     Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’Ethereal Sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defy th’Omnipotent to Arms." 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 40-49

In mezzotint the artist began with a dark plate and literally scratched his way to light. 

The contemporary viewers of these plates would have been more than familiar which the Scriptural underpinnings of these lines by Milton:

"How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" (Isaiah 14:12)
"And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6: 6)
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4)
And not least:
"17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." (Luke 10: 17 -18)
Suddenly and without warning God casts Lucifer, his Light bearer, and his fellow rebels like a bolt of lightning from the height of heaven  into the depths of the black earth, the exterior darkness. The force of God, his speed, the greatness and grandeur all within the poem are conjured up to perfection by Martin


John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 192: 'Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate'
From Paradise Lost 
1827 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Mezzotint
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock


Wiliiam Blake and others thought that Milton's Satan, the rebel against God, was the true hero of Paradise Lost

Milton created Satan as a politician and a seducer, a tragic but heroic figure with virtues of readiness, fervour, eloquence and opposition to tyranny

Here we have Milton`s physical description of Satan:

"Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or Earth-born, that warred on Jove,
Briareus, or Typhon, whom the den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream:
Him, haply, slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chained on the burning lake."

Here Martin depicts the huge expanse of Hell: some great cavernous Kingdom steeped in darkness and only barely lit by sulphur fires

His "mate" is Belzebub and both are amking their way from the lake of fire to the fiery plain to join their compatriots in revolt

Satan is large. He lay floating "many a rood." about 1/4 acre. Satan`s bulk is compared to mythological monsters such as Leviathan



John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 710: 'Anon, out of the earth a fabric huge' -
From Paradise Lost 
1827 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Mezzotint
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock


Milton writes of The Building of Pandemonium
"Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge
Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound
Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet,
Built like a Temple, where Pilasters round
Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid
With Golden Architrave; nor did there want
Cornice or Freeze, with bossy Sculptures grav'n,
The Roof was fretted Gold. Not Babilon,
Nor great Alcairo such magnificence
Equal'd in all thir glories, to inshrine
Belus or Serapis thir Gods, or seat
Thir Kings, when Ægypt with Assyria strove
In wealth and luxurie. "  
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 710 - 722

Martin depicts Satan before his Palace, He came back to this image time and time again Here we see it in oils:


John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Pandemonium
1841
Oil on canvas
123 x 184 cm
Private collection


Pandemonium is the palace of Satan,  place of All Demons  It was a word invented by Milton

The demons built it in about an hour. It exceeded  all human palaces or dwellings; It was designed by the architect Mulciber, who had been the designer of palaces in Heaven before his fall. In Milton, Mulciber is also the Roman God Vulcan, the God of Fire and volcanoes

If you think that there is something familiar about the scene,or that you may have seen something like this before, you probably have.

Martin's painting was inspired not only by Milton's text but also by the contemporary architecture of London such as the immense water-gates of Somerset House, the arcade of Carlton House Terrace in Pall Mall, and Charles Barry's perspective plans for the new Houses of Parliament

Byron, in  Don Juan (1818) also associated Pall Mall with Hell.

At the centre of Pandemonium is the throne room, the seat of Satan`s power



John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book II Line 1: 'High on a throne of royal state' 
From Paradise Lost 
1827 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Mezzotint
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock

High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth or Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence; and, from despair
Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
Vain war with Heaven; and, by success untaught,
His proud imaginations thus displayed:-- 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II, lines 1 - 10

Milton`s vision of Satan`s throne is that of a Far Eastern despot`s 

It is the beginning of Satan`s address to his co-inhabitants of Hell for the preparations of the Second Battle for Heaven

It is of course not a coincidence that Milton portrayed Satan as a King. Milton and the Puritans had just executed a King. In 1649, after the execution of Charles I, Milton published the tract The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, stating that power resides in the people, who may depose and execute an unworthy and absolute king who seeks to deprive them of fundamental rights

Martin depicts the mindset of the intelligent despot: the epitome of the Satanic  Non serviam: History is littered with countless examples
"The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n." 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 233 - 242

Satan sitting on the highest throne over all the  territorial dominions of the Earth. It was an image and theme to which Milton would return in 1677 in Paradise Regained

After wandering in the wilderness for forty days Jesus is starved of both food and the Word of God. Satan, too blind to see any non-literal meanings of the term, offers Christ food and various other temptations, but Jesus continually denies him.

It is The Temptation of Christ according to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:1-13)
;
Christ rejects Satan's offer of all the worldly kingdoms in exchange for worshipping Satan: He also rejects worldly kingdoms in favor of other worldly kingdoms.Christ's reply also implies that worldly kingdoms are Satan's domain. Since Satan has the power to give these kingdoms away, they must be under his control:

"It is written
The first of all Commandments, Thou shalt worship
The Lord thy God, and only him shalt serve;
And dar'st thou to the Son of God propound
To worship thee accurst, now more accurst
For this attempt bolder then that on Eve,
And more blasphemous? which expect to rue.
The Kingdoms of the world to thee were giv'n,
Permitted rather, and by thee usurp't,
Other donation none thou canst produce:
If given, by whom but by the King of Kings,
God over all supreme? If giv'n to thee,
By thee how fairly is the Giver now
Repaid? But gratitude in thee is lost
Long since. Wert thou so void of fear or shame,
As offer them to me the Son of God,
To me my own, on such abhorred pact, 
John Milton Paradise Regained Book IV, 175 - 191