From Boehme to Blake.
Yesterday, passing through the divided city of Zgorzelec (Poland) and Gorlitz (Germany) my friends and I accidentally came across the house of the great visionary shoemaker and philosopher Jacob Bohme (or Boehme) (1575-1624). It was in this house that he had a vision of God which he was to write about in his philosophical publications a few years later. Boehme interests me because his works were read by another great visionary, and one of my favourite artists and poets – William Blake – who I based my masters thesis on. In the thesis I focused on the Indian aspects in Blake’s drawings. This may seem bizarre considering that the subject of Indian art and philosophy doesn’t often crop up with the mention of Blake. However, evidence suggests that Blake was probably one of the first people from Britain to read the English translation of the Bhagavadgita! And when seen in this light suddenly the philosophy of the Bhagavadgita may be seen reverberating through his writings and in some of his imagery. Many contemporaries of Blake used India as a theme in their work, but what set him aside was, as Saree Madsiki writes, the way in which ‘the distinctions between East and West – and hence self and other’ had no role to play in Blake’s work. (Madsiki, 2006: 28). This may be seen as a remarkable quality in what was then a very prejudiced Britain and even today ought to inspire admiration.
Here, Beatrice – Dante’s muse and saviour – resembles an Indian goddess. She wears a crown, stands upon a lotus engraved pedestal and holds her hands in the blessing mudra. The gryphon resembles Garuda, the vehicle of the Hindu preserver God, Vishnu.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the divine ‘creature’ had four heads – three animal and one human. Blake’s version resembles the Hindu creator God Brahma.