Legacies, Blake on Stage, and the Horror of the Inquisition

The Tate Britain has recently opened a new exhibition room dedicated to the “Legacy of Blake” (https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain/display/spotlights/ancients-and-moderns-legacies-william-blake) – which made me smile, thinking of the “Legacy of the Beast” (tour, 2018 – 2019 and mobile game of the same name of Iron Maiden). (And no, the very unfortunate author has missed the opening of said exhibition room by a couple of days).

The other day I discovered that, actually, the “Legacy of Blake” had made its way into the “Legacy of the Beast.” During the beginning of “The Sign of the Cross” (The X Factor, 1995), Dickinson wears a large, black cloak with a huge hood that extends largely over his head and seems to end in a square. It looks like someone had cut it off. He bows down with it in front of a small cross.

This is a more or less exact enacting of Blake’s painting “The Hypocrites with Caiaphas. Verso: Sketch of a Stooping Figure” (1824-7). I am very sorry that I cannot provide a picture of the stage setting due to copyright reasons. (In case you have ever been wondering, that is why there are no Maiden photos in this Maiden blog.)

William Blake, The Hypocrites with Caiaphas. Verso: Sketch of a Stooping Figure, 1824-7, Tate (N03359), digital image, © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Caiaphas and the Inquisition: Condemning the Innocent

“Sign of the Cross” mentions Umberto Eco’s famous novel “The Name of the Rose” (1980), a complex novel featuring a Sherlock Holmes-monk (who is accompanied by an Adson instead of a Watson, but that comes close enough) who investigates sinister and cruel murders in an abbey which ostensibly follow the pattern of the Apocalypse (which we find in the Biblical chapter “Revelation”, as I have pointed out in the article on the song of the almost same name and here) But, what is more, it features Bernado Gui, a monk and a medieval inquisitor who wrote the Inquisitor’s Manual (Practica inquisitiones heretice pravitatis, circa 1324).

“Sign of the Cross” is indeed about inquisition. I think we can agree that inquisition is one of the darkest chapters of church history and prime example of misuse of clerical power. Which brings us back to Blake. What we see on the Blake painting is somewhat related. Caiaphas, for his part, condemned an innocent to death, too. Caiaphas is responsible for the verdict of Jesus to be crucified. The painting is part of a series that illustrates Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” (1308-1320) (cf. description on Tate homepage: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/blake-the-hypocrites-with-caiaphas-verso-sketch-of-a-stooping-figure-n03359) So, the punishment of Caiaphas is part of a series in which sinners as punished (cf. l. c.) Still, the hypocrites, are hypocrites, of course. They pretend to be mourning by a stooped position, but put a foot on the crucified in a gesture of victory.

The Clergy Erasing Human Imagination – Los

What is interesting here, in my eyes, is that Caiaphas has similarity to some depictions of Los. At least for my money (see the link I have provided at the end of the article). Los, in the Blakean world, represents the human imagination. His counterfeit is Urizen, the embodiment of measuring, calculating, and, most of all, writing rules. He is a Mosaic figure who set up several books of rules which are so strict that no-one manages to keep them; even his own children fail to do so. It is thus save to say that Urizen represents the church and church power. (Damon) Please bear in mind that the hypocrites look like monks. This makes the associate link to the mentioned monks, and the inquisition they stand for, very easy. In an alternative reading of the painting, church power feigns mourning over the crucified imagination, only to put down one foot in triumph on his chest, demonstrating their true feelings of victory.

Thus, we have church power triumphing over human imagination; inquisition erasing the spirit, everything which does not follow their rules. I do not want to over-interpret this short stage setting, but, to me, it makes a lot of sense. In this triumph of an evil clergy over the human imagination, or, everything not so conform with cleric thinking, “Sign of the Cross” (and thus “The Name of the Rose”) and Blake’s world overlap. The monk standing before the cross at the beginning of the song is most likely nothing but another feigning hypocrite. Bowing down in hypocrisy and subjugating and condemning others by rules and law makes him utterly Urizenic.

See Los here:

Blake, William. The [First] Book of Urizen. Copy G. Object 21. The Blake Archive. blakearchive.org http://www.blakearchive.org/copy/urizen.g?descId=urizen.g.illbk.21 [08/19/19]

Blake at Tate Britain:

“William Blake” Exhibition 

https://www.tate.org.uk/

Sources

  • Harris, Steve. “Sign of the Cross.” Iron Maiden. The X Factor. EMI, 1995.
  • Eco, Umberto. Der Name der Rose. München: dtv, 1986.
  • “Bernardo Gui” on Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Gui (08/19/19) [08/19/19]
  • Damon, Samuel, Foster. A Blake Dictionary: the Ideas and Symbols of William Blake. Providence: Brown University Press, 1965.

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