Nebuchadnezzar and the Creation of Dissedence

The artist of the piece to be examined, “Nebuchadnezzar”, painted in 1795, is the Romantic poet, author, artist and theorist William Blake. I viewed the piece on Monday 27 September 1999 at the Tate Gallery in Westminster. The piece is a colour print finished in ink pen and watercolour on paper. (See Figure 1)
The subject of the piece is King Nebauchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonian empire from 605 to 562 B.C. The narrative behind the image is that of partly historical and partly mythological backround. The king is a factual person, but the image which Blake depicts is from a story of Nebauchadnezzar’s dream and the allegorical interpretations of historical events in the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel to illustrate the power of God.
The story of King Nebauchadnezzar which the print depicts is that of one of the King’s dreams. The powerful Machiavellian king dreamed one night of a great tree growing from the earth. The tree produced abundant amounts of fruit and it grew until its top reached heaven. A celestial being appeared in the King’s dream and ordered him to cut the tree down, leaving only its roots bound in iron and bronze in the grass. The same being then decreed that the King’s mind be changed from a man’s to a beast’s.
Because the King did not understand his dream, he called on the prophet Daniel to explain it. Daniel told him that Nebuchadnezzar was the strong tree in his dream. He interpreted the dream as being a decree from God that the mighty King who ruled without care for anyone but himself would be condemened to dwell with the beasts so that he would recognize God’s superior power. When the King continued his evil ways and failed to show compassion for those he oppressed, the dream came true. Nebauchadnezzar now found himself eating grass as oxen do. He was drenched with the dew of heaven, and his hair grew into eagles’ feathers and his nails turned into birds’ talons.
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