Since its publication, Paradise Lost has inspired artists to give form to the descriptions Milton provides. In 1688, the very first edition of Paradise Lost appeared with illustrations, one for each book (begun by Dr. Aldrich and completed by Medina and Lens) the illustrations are worth analyzing in relation to the text. Past scholarship has focused on the relationship between the art and the text while I will focus on analyzing the specific character traits that these illustrators chose to highlight and how these clarify how the character of Satan should be viewed.
In Book I, the image is an illustration of Satan and his legions. However, there are some interesting things of note in the illustration; Satan is seen as piercing the bodies of his legions who writhe in pain on the ground. There is no evidence of the chains with which they are supposed to be bound, although the lakes of fire figure in the background along with figures that appear on thrones in the distance. Satan himself is portrayed with mostly human characteristics, except for his small horns, pointed ears and wings. He seems taller than the legions at his feet, and in fact is drawn as though he towers over them. The expression on his face seems bland, with little to no emotion. The form is modeled after St. Michael and the Devil, by Raphael. Now, if you flip forward to the illustration for Book IX which illustrates the Fall, there is a marked difference in how Satan is portrayed. He walks on two legs, but there is something animal to the musculature of the legs. His horns feature prominently on his head, and are much more pronounced as are the pointed ears. The artist has shaded him so that he appears darker than the rest of the picture and there is the addition of a long tail. He is in the foregraound and while not centered, he is definitely at the center of the action. Wendy Furman-Adams states that part of what makes this piece so powerful us the implementation of the medieval technique of synoptic narration, where several different scenes are all portrayed in one coherent design.
Analyzing these illustrations in relation to Paradise Lost is important because it provides an artist’s perspective on the changes in Satan’s character through the books, as well as highlighting the unique characteristics that Milton created in Satan. Rather than just analyze the relationship of these illustrations with the text as past scholars have, this presentation will examine the textual descriptions that Milton provides, and then compare these to the characteristics that the illustrator chose to highlight in the 1688 edition.