Ο πίνακας αυτός είναι μια μινιατούρα διαστάσεων 21,4x16,2 cm και απεικονίζει το φάντασμα ενός ψύλλου όπως το φαντάστηκε ο Blake ή όπως το είδε, μια και ισχυριζόταν ότι έβλεπε πνεύματα και οπτασίες. Αυτό έγινε σε μια συνάντηση με έναν αστρολόγο ο οποίος πίστευε ότι καλούσε πνεύματα, αλλά δεν μπορούσε ο ίδιος να τα δει, οπότε κάλεσε το Blake που είχε αυτή την «ικανότητα». Σε μια τέτοια συνάντηση του είπε πως είδε το φάντασμα ενός ψύλλου και του το ζωγράφισε σε σκίτσο εκείνη την ώρα. Αργότερα επεξεργάστηκε περισσότερο το σκίτσο και προέκυψε αυτός ο πίνακας που δείχνει πώς φαντάστηκε τον ψύλλο, ως ένα ανθρωπόμορφο κακόβουλο αιμοδιψές τέρας, αρκετά ανήσυχο και υπερκινητικό. Όπως είπε ο ίδιος ο Blake, είναι μια αλληγορία για τους ακόρεστους και αιμοδιψείς ανθρώπους, οι ψυχές των οποίων ξεπέφτουν στο επίπεδο ενός ψύλλου.
William Blake first met astrologist John Varley in the autumn of 1818. Varley held a strong belief in the existence of spirits, but was frustrated by his inability to see them. Thus he was drawn to Blake, who claimed to have seen visions daily since when as a small child. The two would often gather late at night in Varley's house, and played a game in which Varley would attempt to summon the spirit of a historical or mythological person. On the appearance of the spirit, Blake would then attempt to sketch their likeness. In 1819, according to Varley, the imagery of a Flea came to Blake during one such meeting.
Ghost of a Flea, completed between 1819 and 1820, at 214 mm x 162 mm (painting) and 382 mm x 324 mm x 50 mm (frame), is a greatly reduced miniature portrait. Blake generally worked on a small scale, most of his illuminated pages, engravings and many of his paintings are only inches high. Although is one of Blake's smallest works, it is monumental in its imagination. In addition, its tidy scale creates a drama by contrasting the apparent muscular bulk and power of the creature against its incarnation as an insect in the panel.
The muscular and nude Flea is depicted using its jutting tongue to gorge on a bowl of blood. Part human, part vampire and part reptile, the beast strides from right to left between heavy and richly patterned curtains. In his left hand he holds an acorn and in his right a thorn, both items drawn from the tradition of fairy iconography. His massive neck is similar to that of a bull, and holds a disproportionally small head, marked by glaring eyes and open jaws, and a venomous slithering tongue. According to the art critic Jonathan Jones, the flea is depicted as an "evil, gothic, grotesque stalking through a starry realm between stage curtains." (wikipedia)
Blake's flea is evil, gothic, grotesque, stalking through a starry realm between stage curtains - walking the boards, in fact, as if the artist had ensnared this creature to appear in a spectacle. The ghost's spine is a throbbing, gristly column shooting into his scaly head with its bulging eyes and voracious tongue; his massive muscles are red-toned, as if infused with dried blood, and his loping, crushing walk is that of a colossus come to life. This vastness and mad-eyed bestiality contrasts with the visible form of the spirit's physical embodiment, which can be seen on the floor between his veined legs: a little flea.
Blake's explanation of the spirit he saw accords with the painting's extreme drama of scale, the contrast of the huge invisible monster with its tiny incarnation as insect. The blood-drinking household flea, said Blake, is in fact the physical shape taken by the souls of men who are so bloodthirsty that they are providentially confined to the size and form of insects. (guardian)
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