SIR THOMAS LAWRENCE P.R.A.
Satan as the Fallen Angel
Engraved: Mezzotint by William Say (1768-1834), ‘Fallen Angels’ (1803-1834)
The artist’s sale, London, Christie’s 21 May 1830, lot 210, bt. Stanley
Probably Lord Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851)
Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe (1915-2014)
Sotheby's, London, The Duchess Property & Precious Objects from
the Estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, 27-28 May 2015, lot 72.
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance,
National Portrait Gallery, London, October 2010 - January 2011, no. 18
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance,
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2011, no. 18
K. Garlick, 'A Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence', Walpole Society, 1964, p. 255 (Satan, no. 4)
A. Cassandra Albinson et. al., Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance, Yale, 2011, p. 152, no. 18
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n
Without a doubt one of the greatest Lawrence drawings still left in private hands. The work is part of a distinguished group of six recorded drawings concentrating on the theme of Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost, one study is in the Royal Academy’s Collection, another in the Louvre’s, the third in a Private Collection, and the last two are now lost. Lawrence’s exploration into the subject matter of Milton’s Satan culminated in his magnificent 14 foot high Satan Summoning his Legions which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1797, and represented in the words of Peter Funnell ‘his most determined attempt to forge a career as a painter of historical paintings’. Lawrence until the end of his life saw it as his greatest creation. In 1811 he wrote to Joseph Farington ‘I have been out with Lord Mountjoy… to show him my Satan… and I am returned most heavily depressed in spirit from the strong impression of the past dreadful waste of time and improvidence of my Life and Talent. I have seen my own Picture with the eye of a spectator – of a stranger – and I do know that it is such as neither Mr West, not Sir Joshua, nor Fuseli could have painted. I will request you to go with me and confirm this judgment.’
As far back as 1785, Lawrence in the thrall of Paradise Lost, had sketched portraits of the poem’s principal characters. In a letter to Thomas Falconer, Lawrence the sixteen year old prodigy, described how he had conceived Satan’s physiognomy with “more Majesty & Bearing”, and not with the conventional countenance of “horror” and devilish disfigurements. Lawrence remained consonant with his original conception of how ‘the Dread Commander’ should appear in his Miltonic creations of twelve years later. The Apollonian appearance and patrician poise of our Satan is perhaps more exquisitely crafted than the correspondent creations of Lawrence’s contemporary Milton illustrators, but, the Devil’s anthropomorphic aspect was certainly very much consistent with the taste of the times: ‘Satan was completely humanised by the 1790s. Never again do we see the animal-like Satan of Medina and Cheron nor even the stiff, puppet-like actor of Hayman and R. Corbould. Satan appears in the work of Barry, Fuseli and nineteenth-century artists with athletic form, handsome features and determined but suffering visage. Adam and Eve, Uriel, Raphael and Michael are all now minor characters in the drama. Satan is the embodiment of all that is of primary interest in Paradise Lost.’ Indeed, this settled direction in how Satan and ‘the embattled seraphim’ were characterised by the late 18th century British Romantic artists shows a closer congruity with Milton’s original conception than those of earlier interpreters. Shelley in his unpublished ‘Essay on the Devil and Devils’ later summarised that ‘Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but tremendous spirit—and restored him to the society.’ Jonathan Richardson’s 1734 prelusive pronouncement on the matter is an even earlier tracing of the contours that were later implemented by Lawrence, Fuseli, Barry et al. : ‘Devils are usually painted with Horns, Sawcer Eyes, Ugly Faces, Tayls, Cloven Feet, &c. Milton’s Devils are No Such, He must be read Without Such Images, His are Seen to be Angels still, though Scarr’d, and Disfigur’d.…No Man has Ever Thought in This, (as in Other Respects) like Milton. O that he had Painted! and as he Conceiv’d!’.
A model for Satan’s face in the present drawing has so far been elusive, with no single candidate representing a definite fit. Assuredly, it seems most unlikely that Lawrence would have used just one recognisable model for his Satan. An idealised composite of the heads of the Apollo Belvedere and Michelangelo’s David, an idiosyncratic admixture of their archaic features, is incidentally not an insupposable proposition. It was thought for a long time that Lawrence’s friend, John Philip Kemble, the brother of Sarah Siddons, was the original inspiration for the face. The nineteenth century art historian, William T. Whitley, gave weight to this theory when he recorded that 'the youthful Fanny Kemble... fancied that she could trace in its fierce and tragical expression some likeness to her uncle and aunt, John Philip Kemble and Mrs Siddons.’
Lawrence hasillustrated the dynamic between Satan and Beelzebub with great creative felicity, the remarkableness of which, is not unfaithful to the two characters interplay in Milton’s text. Beelzebub, ‘than whom, Satan except, none higher sat.’ - hawkishly ‘throws his baleful eyes’ down upon, what one would conjecture, are the fallen seraphim languishing in ‘the oblivious pool’ - ‘Grov’ling and prostrate on yon lake of fire’ - the piteous fallen state, whilst Satan stares (in a neologism of James Joyce) ‘glittereyed’ beyond ‘the heart of Hell’ to ‘the glimmering dawn’ of the outermost spheres of opportunity and retribution. In his ‘thousand-yard stare’ we see the creation of Pandemonium, the fall of Man, temptation of Christ and further and farther beyond into space and time - in summation - the ever-presence of evil and advancing march of sin, the defiance of Him, the Almighty: ‘In heav’n they scorn’d to serve, so now in hell they reigne” so wrote Phineas Fletcher in his 1633 The Purple Island, which Milton later reconstructed into the more succinct ‘Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.’ The shimmering crescent of white chalk in Satan’s right eye calls to mind the lines which Joseph Addison so favoured, when later on in Book 1 Satan begins to cry ‘upon his Survey of those innumerable Spirits whom he had involved in the same Guilt and Ruin with himself.’
… He now prepared
To speak; whereat their doubled ranks they bend
From wing to wing, and half enclose him round
With all his Peers: Attention held them mute.
Thrice he assay’d, and thrice in spite of Scorn
Tears, such as Angels weep, burst forth….
‘From wing to wing, and half enclose him round’ is, by happenstance, suggested by Lawrence in the present work where Beelzebub’s softly shadowed, cornsilk yellow muted wings quietly envelop both angels. Satan’s monarchal pride, his projected self-reliance, so wonderfully emphasised through the architectonic structuring, sculptural integrity and close framing of his and Beelzebub’s totemic figures, is ruptured through the Devil's delicate multifarious eyes - all can be revealed to the beholder in this part - ‘The wrapt soul sitting in thine eyes’ - the note of wistfulness extant with the bird-of-prey glint or as George Eliot described Lydgate in Middlemarch ‘The thunder and lightning gathering around his eyes and brows’.
The lack of a setting, movement and additional figures allows this drawing to remain moderately ambiguous to which lines in Book 1 it illustrates. Michael Levey in 1979 suggested that the scene relates to the lines: Thus Satan talking to his nearest mate / With head uplift above the wave, and eyes / That sparkling blazed… (Book 1, lines 192-4). However, in 2010, when the work was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, it was thought more likely to depict the moment when Satan surveys his companions and utters the infamous line: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven (Book 1, line 263). In truth, many lines and stanzas from Book 1 can be connected to what Lawrence depicts:
And welting by his side
One next himself in pow’r and next in crime,
Long after known in Palestine and named
Beëlzebub. To whom th’ Arch-Enemy,
And thence in Heav’n called Satan…..
Treble confusion, wrath and vengeance poured’
The primacy of Satan, ‘a created Being of the most exalted and most depraved Nature’, as the preferred visual subject of all the Paradise Lost characters at the end of the eighteenth century was emblematic of the many interpretations which this heroic arch-revolutionary prompted in artists and readers alike. Ever since the time of John Dryden’s inceptive verdict, that Satan is the true hero of the poem (countered by many but agreed with by more) - has this character, shorn by Milton of the traditional Christian iconography of the Devil, fascinated and intoxicated Milton’s readership just as Satan himself, as Coleridge saw it, is inalterably drunk on ‘the alcohol of egotism’ - ‘This lust of self in opposition… around this character he [Milton] has thrown in a singularity of daring, a grandeur of sufferance, and a ruined splendour, which constitute the very height of poetic sublimity.’ Milton’s Satan represented to Lawrence, Fuseli and Barry the ideal subject to portray in their pursuit of a native ‘Grand Style’, the greatest character from England’s greatest poem.
My ear, I confess it, is dissatisfied with every thing, for days, and weeks, after the harmony of Paradise Lost. Leaving this magnificent temple, I am hardly to be pacified by the fairy-built chambers, the rich cupboards of embossed plate, and the omigenous images of Shakespeare.
Walter Savage Landor
1. John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667, Book 1, line 263
2. Kenneth Garlick, 'A Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence', Walpole Society, 1964, p. 255
3. Peter Funnell, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance, Yale, 2011, p. 152, no. 18
4. Lawrence’s fellow Academician Henry Fuseli accused the young artist of copying from him - “it was from your person, not from your paintings,” Lawrence retorted, presumably to placate the Lucifer-like pride of the “Painter in Ordinary to the Devil” Fuseli.
5. Lawrence letter RA/1/289; published in G. S. Layard, Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag, 1906, p. 84
6. Letter to Thomas Falconer from Lawrence, 10 September 1785
7. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 589
8. Marcia R. Pointon, Milton & English Art, 1970, p. 96
9. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 129
10. Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘On the Devil, and Devils’, The Prose Works, Vol. II., p. 390
11. Jonathan Richardson, Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1734, p. 39
12. Charles Baudelaire asserted that ‘the most perfect type of male beauty is Satan as depicted by Milton.’
Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, 1947, p.15
13. William T. Whitley, Art in England, 1821-1837, 1930, p. 326
14. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 2, line 300
15. The bowed look of Beelzebub signifies obeisance whilst also acting as a contrast to the steadfast ambitious stare of Satan’s. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 56
16. Probably the river Lethe. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 266
17. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 280
18. James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922, p.184
19. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 151
20. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 2, line 1037
21. Phineas Fletcher, The Purple Island, 1633, 7.10
22. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 263
23. Joseph Addison, ‘Notes upon the twelve books of Paradise Lost’, the Spectator, no. 303, p. 42
24. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 615-620
25. John Milton, Il Penseroso, 1631, Line 39
26. George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1886, p. 242
27. Michael Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769-1830, 1979, p. 94
Unlikely as Satan and Beelzebub were still lying prostrate on the burning lake at this point in the poem.
28. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 78-82
29. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 218-219
30. Joseph Addison, ‘Notes upon the twelve books of Paradise Lost’, the Spectator, no. 303, p. 42
31. John Dryden, Dedication to the Aeneid, 1697: cited in E.M.W. Tillyard, The English Epic and its Background, 1954, p.435
Addison claimed that Milton intended no hero, and if there was to be one it would be the Messiah.
32. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature, ed. R.A Foakes, 1987
33. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature, ed. R.A Foakes, 1987