Frontispiece

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The Temple of Nature, Edited by Martin Priestman

frontispiece

Note on the image

Like the poem's other three illustrations, this was designed by Henry Fuseli and engraved by his regular engraver and business partner, Moses Haughton. Fuseli (1741-1825, born in Zürich as Johann Heinrich Füssli) is one of the early Romantic Period's greatest artists, perhaps best known for his 1781 painting The Nightmare. Darwin's admiring description of this painting in Loves of the Plants (III, 51-78) led to a creative collaboration whereby Fuseli introduced Darwin to his publisher Joseph Johnson, and contributed two important illustrations to The Economy of Vegetation (one of them engraved by William Blake). The four engravings for Temple represent a fascinating intersection of the demands of the poem with Fuseli's longstanding preoccupation with erotically-charged dreams and visionary apparitions.

This Frontispiece illustrates lines I, 163-70, in which the priestess-muse Urania partly reveals the Goddess Nature to the group of postulants in the background: the fact that they are of both sexes may identify them with the readerly "youths and virgins" of I, 32, or with the "kneeling realms" brought to acknowledge Nature in I, 171. Meanwhile, the poet's own Muse ("thy votary") kneels in the foreground. The intricate network of gazes, from us to our intermediary Muse to Urania to the postulants to the figure of Nature herself, accurately captures the complex interrelationships of Darwin's opening, while also exemplifying the "visions within visions" effect of many of Fuseli's works. Fuseli's fascination with female breasts in odd states of exposure is also exemplified in the figure of the Goddess, her "hundred breasts" somewhat improbably implied by the three on show. See my note to I, 129 for a further discussion of this image.

Published @ RC

October 2006