Los and Orc

William Blake: apprentice and master, is an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until the end of February. One of the central exhibits is a small watercolour of ‘Los and Orc’ thought to have been painted around the time of the French Revolution, 1791.th-2


Los is the father, a political figure full of imagination and energy. On the left of the picture, the sun shines on the yellow foreground. Behind is repression, darkness and an oily sea.

But his son, Orc, is manacled to the rocks, expected to gain from the political changes.

220px-Blake_America_12  th-3

Orc is an anagram of cor, or heart. He is the source of mechanical energy, developing science to rescue his father’s world of nature.

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The exhibition quotes from Blake’s The Book of Urizen.

‘Compell [sic] the poor to live upon a Crust of bread, by soft mild arts.

Smile when they frown, frown when they smile, & when a man looks pale

With labour and abstinence say he looks healthy and happy;

And when his children sicken, let them die; there are enough

Born, even too many, & our Earth will be overrun

Without these arts.’

Erasmus Darwin and the Rev Robert Malthus were close to Blake’s understanding of Nature, but the great importance of their insight was lost until recently.

Read more in TJ Clarke: A Snake, a Flame, London Review of Books, 5th February 2015