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The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4)

William Blake

European Art

After the French Revolution, artists such as the printmaker, painter, and poet William Blake drew subject matter from the biblical book of Revelation to contemplate the tumult of their era. This watercolor refers to the appearance of “a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet” and “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns.” The dragon, identified with Satan, attempts to snatch a soon-to-be-born son from the frightened woman, who represents the Virgin Mary, Israel, and the church.

Though this imagery is highly personal, like much of Blake’s visionary poetry and art, it relates to his work as a reproductive engraver, borrowing its composition from a book illustration that he engraved after the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli in 1791.

This image emerged in contemporary popular culture when it appeared in the 2002 movie Red Dragon, tattooed on the back of a serial killer played by Ralph Fiennes.
MEDIUM Black ink and watercolor over traces of graphite and incised lines on wove paper
  • Place Made: England
  • DATES ca. 1803–1805
    DIMENSIONS Image: 17 3/16 x 13 11/16 in. (43.7 x 34.8 cm) Sheet (with inlay): 21 11/16 x 17 1/16 in. (55.1 x 43.3 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Signed bottom right: Monogram "WB inv"
    INSCRIPTIONS Inscribed above the image: "A Woman clothed with the sun, & the moon under her feet, and/upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and behold a great red dragon also." Inscribed below the image at right: "Revns:ch:12th: v 4th:" Inscribed below the image: "And the tail of the great red dragon drew the third part of the stars of/heaven, and did cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the/woman which was ready to be delivered for to devour her child as soon as it was born."
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Gift of William Augustus White
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION William Blake (British, 1757–1827). The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803–1805. Black ink and watercolor over traces of graphite and incised lines on wove paper, Image: 17 3/16 x 13 11/16 in. (43.7 x 34.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of William Augustus White, 15.368 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 15.368_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 15.368_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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