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Creator:
John Flaxman, 1755–1826
Title:

The Creation of the Heavens

Date:
ca. 1790
Medium:
Gray ink and gray wash on medium, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Dimensions:
Sheet: 9 1/8 × 10 inches (23.2 × 25.4 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

Inscribed on back in graphite, upper left: "3 1/4"; in graphite, upper center: "9 1/2"; in graphite, upper right: "3/14"; in graphite, center right: "8 3/4"; in graphite, lower left: "[...]"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.2586
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
angels | creation | deities | figures | flying | heaven | planets | pointing | religious and mythological subject | stars
Access:
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:9574
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Despite his reputation as an artist who took his principal inspiration from the ancient world, Flaxman argued in his lectures to the Royal Academy that “there are more suitable artistic subjects to be found in the Old and New Testaments than in pagan mythology” (Bindman, 1979, p. 31). “The Creation of the Heavens” is an example of Flaxman’s lesser-known series of biblical drawings. In this dramatic composition the aggregate mass of God and his angels flies upward, cutting a diagonal swath across the darkened paper. Sidestepping the problem of representing the Creator’s visage, Flaxman depicts God and the angels from behind, their forms simplified into a few strokes of watercolor. Stars or planets are suggested by the spots of untouched white paper surrounded by the dark watercolor wash in the background. Locating this undated drawing within Flaxman’s career is difficult. During his sojourn in Rome we know that he spent time drawing illustrations for “Pilgrim's Progress” and also biblical subject matter such as “Enoch Raised to Heaven” (1792, British Museum, London). Influenced by the Renaissance art in the Italian capital, Flaxman is clearly indebted in this drawing to Michelangelo’s “Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Planets” in the Sistine Chapel. Scholars have also noted, however, the similarity between “The Creation of the Heavens” and plates from William Blake’s “The First Book of Urizen” (1794). It might therefore make sense to date the drawing to after Flaxman’s return to London in 1794, the same year that Urizen appeared.

Cassandra Albinson
John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 272, no. 63, fl. 63, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)



Like Michael Rysbrack (see cats. 30 and 152) [B1992.19.2 and B1977.14.5719], John Flaxman was a sculptor who was also a celebrated draftsman. Indeed, Flaxman's spare, and unrelentingly linear drawings are the quintessential statements of neoclassical draftsmanship. They take the process of neoclassical simplification of forms, seen in its early stages in Gavin Hamilton's illustrations to the Iliad (cats. 31-2) [B1975.4.884 and B1975.4.885], to a new level of severity and abstraction. Both of these drawings [B1977.14.6168 and B1981.25.2586] demonstrate the exchange of visual ideas between Flaxman and his friend William Blake (see cats. 36-7) [B1992.8.11(9) and B1992.8.11(23)] as well as their creative responses to earlier art. In Get Thee Behind Me, Satan the commanding figure of Christ is taken from Raphael's cartoon Christ's Charge to St. Peter. Blake made use of the same figure in his Christ appearing the Apostles after the Resurrection, one of his large color prints of the mid-1790s. Flaxman's fleeing Satan appears, rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, as the evil angel in The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child, another of Blake's large color prints. And the floating angels to the right of Christ in Flaxman's drawing, which also have their counterparts in Blake's art of the period, testify to a shared interest in the linear expressiveness of Gothic art. The Creation of the Heavens may have been inspired by Micelangelo's Sistine-ceiling image of God creating the heavens; but, in its expression of cosmic energy through a radical simplification of the human form, it is even more Blakean.

Scott Wilcox


Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 47, cat. no. 35, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Fuseli Circle in Rome - Early Romantic Art in the 1770s (Yale Center for British Art, 1979-09-12 - 1979-11-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 272, no. 63, fl. 63, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

David Bindman, John Flaxman, R.A, Catalogue of an Exhibition Held at the Royal Academy of Arts, 26 October-9 December 1979 , Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1979, p. 31, NJ18 F615 B55 1979 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 63, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA) [YCBA]

Nancy L. Pressly, The Fuseli circle in Rome : Early Romantic art of the 1770s, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1979, p. 132, no. 135, N6425 .N4 P73 YCBA [ORBIS]

The critique of reason : Romantic art, 1760-1860 : March 6-July 26, 2015, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2015, [pp. 14, 16], fig. 24, V 2574 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, pp. 46-47, no. 35, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]


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