This striking set of etchings illustrating John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) was produced in 1896 by the British printmaker and painter, William Strang (1859–1921). This set is number 98 of a limited edition of 150, which were mounted and bound with a decorated front-board.
William Strang’s illustrations for Paradise Lost
William Strang was born in Dumbarton in Scotland, and moved to London to attend the Slade School of Art in 1876. Strang became involved in the movement to revive the status of etching, but later focussed on painting portraits and imagined scenes.
Strang’s ten etchings for Paradise Lost place the poem’s characters at their centre. Unlike John Martin’s sublime landscapes with their tiny figures, Strang’s prints are dominated by the forms of God and Satan, Sin and Death, Adam and Eve. Their bodies are boldly outlined in the style of Renaissance sculpture, or paintings by Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer.
Milton and music
Some critics have suggested that Paradise Lost has a powerful aural quality, and there are references to ‘celestial’ song and music throughout the poem. One of the first etchings in Strang’s series portrays Milton playing music to his daughters, who are singing from a song sheet. The family scene seems inspired by Dr Thomas Newton’s description of Milton unwinding at the end of his working day: ‘After his severer studies, and after dinner… he used to divert and unbend his mind with playing upon the organ or bass-viol, which was a great relief to him after he had lost his sight; for he was a master of music as was his father’.
 Thomas Newton, ‘The Life of Milton’, in Paradise Lost … A new edition, with notes of various authors (London, 1749), Vol. 1, p. li.
- Full title:
- Paradise Lost. By John Milton. A series of twelve illustrations etched by W. Strang.
- 1896, London
- Book / Folio / Print / Illustration / Image
- William Strang [artist], John Milton
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Roberta Klimt
- Politics and religion
From his politics and religious writings to Paradise Lost, Roberta Klimt traces how the life and work of John Milton was guided by the principle of freedom of thought and how in doing so he challenged fundamental aspects of 17th-century society.
- Article by:
- Philip Pullman
- Politics and religion, Gender and sexuality
Philip Pullman first read Paradise Lost as a schoolboy and was dazzled by the sound of its poetry as he and his classmates read it aloud. Since then, he has become fascinated by Milton's tremendous powers of storytelling, and the ways in which he creates narrative tension, complex moods and vivid characters.
- Article by:
- Sandra M. Gilbert
- Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion
Eve in Paradise Lost is vain vulnerable and evidently intellectually inferior to Adam. However, Sandra M Gilbert argues that, though Milton portrays her as a weak character, he also puts her on a par with Satan in her refusal to accept hierarchy and because of her ability to move the plot of Paradise Lost forward.
Related collection items
Related teachers' notes
Through exploring characterisation and setting in Paradise Lost, students will reflect on how transgressive actions and their consequences are presented, with particular reference to Books I, II, IX and X.
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