Romantic Circles Gallery
The Fall of the Rebel Angels
Lucifer and his fellow angels are cast out of Heaven, falling into a deep chasm with sheer rock walls textured by what appears to be tree roots. The chasm is illuminated by light from the opening through which the angels fall, but it is otherwise in deep shadow. The angels grasp their spears and shields as they plummet into the seemingly bottomless pit, simultaneously stuck by falling stones.
Copyright 2009, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison
John Milton's Paradise Lost (published for Septimus Prowett in 1827 and for Charles Tilt in 1833)
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The Fall of the Rebel Angels appeared in the 1827 and 1833 editions of Paradise Lost, published by Septimus Prowett and Charles Tilt, respectively, as an illustration.
John Martin (1789–1854)
In 1824, Septimus Prowett, an American, commissioned John Martin to create a series of 48 mezzotints to illustrate two editions of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, first published in 1667. The publisher offered Martin £2000 to create 24 mezzotints for the large folio edition and, later, smaller versions of each of these for the octavo edition. The first part of each edition was published in 1825. Each consisted of two engravings and forty-eight pages of text. In the Literary Gazette, a Philadelphia journal, the first parts were reviewed and Martin was showered with praise:
We know no artist whose genius so perfectly fitted him to be illustrator of the mighty Milton. There is a wildness, a grandeur, a mystery about his designs which are indescribably fine. It may be that the figures cannot possess the force and dignity with which the imagination clothes them, but the sweeping elements, the chaos come again, the wonders of Heaven and Hell which existed before the earth was made, are magnificently embodied. (Balston 96-99)
John Milton’s Paradise Lost (first published in 1667)
The stark contrast between light and shadow given in the mezzotint shows the dramatic difference between Heaven (the light) and Hell (the blackness at the bottom of the chasm). The image offers something of the sublime, indicating a paradise above and a nightmare below that are themselves unseen.
John Martin was one of the most popular artists of his day. The artist Thomas Cole, the author Victor Hugo, and the composer Hector Berlioz all drew inspiration from Martin’s work. He was one of the few painters who did his own engravings. The text of Paradise Lost itself was also a consistent source of inspiration for Romantic art. The “Pandemonium” scene, in which Satan gathers his armies by the lake of fire, was the main attraction in Jean-Phillipe de Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon in 1782; a critic described the image as “one of the most sublime spectacles ever produced by the hand of science” (McCalman 192). The idea of the Romantic hero—the rebellious, independent, ambitious, and often outcast, individual—cast the character of Satan in a new light, and contributed to re-interpretations of the poem. To complement this renewed interest in Milton's epic, new printing technologies made it possible to illustrate older works. The dramatic light and dark effects of Martin’s mezzotints were a perfect fit for the supernatural drama of Paradise Lost (Balston 99).
This image illustrates a scene from Milton's Paradise Lost.
Balston, Thomas. John Martin, 1799-1854, his Life and Works. London: Duckworth, 1947. Print.
McCalman, Iain. Sensation & Sensibility: Viewing Gainsborough's Cottage Door. Ed. Ann Bermingham. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2005. Print.
Wees, J. Dustin. Darkness Visible: the Prints of John Martin. Williamstown: Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, 1986. Print.
John Martin, The Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1824-1826, Mezzotint with etching, 34.93 cm x 25.24 cm (7.25 in. x 10.5 in.), Edward Blake Blair Endowment Fund Purchase, 1993.5