BLAKE, William
(b. 1757, London, d. 1827, London)

Pity

c. 1795
Relief etching, printed in colour and finished with pen and ink and watercolour, 422 x 527 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Blake was inspired by lines from Macbeth (act 1, scene 7), in which the title character imagines the aftermath of his intended murder of Duncan, the king: "And pity, like a naked new-born babe / Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air, / Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye".

Shakespeare's similes are embodied here to form a dynamic interplay: a tiny baby springs from his mother towards an angel astride a blind steed. The artist inventively mixed relief etching with colours printed from millboard to produce the image, and then used ink and watercolour to define details. Blake called prints like this one "frescoes" and considered them part of a narrative sequence.

There are three full-size versions of this design, one in Tate Gallery, London, one in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and one at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. None of the prints are dated, nor do they bear dated watermarks, but all seem to date from the initial phase of Blake's work on his large colour prints, c.1795. The sequence of the three pulls seems to have been Tate Gallery, Metropolitan Museum and Yale Center.