Image of the Month: ‘Alfred in the Isle of Athelney’ (1751/1778)

By dustinfrazierwood

Last month I joined RIN in a new role as the network co-ordinator, following in the footsteps of Mary Shannon. By way of introduction I want to share ‘Alfred in the Isle of Athelney, receiving News of a Victory over the Danes’, a depiction of Alfred the Great that has loomed large in my recent work on the eighteenth-century reception and representation of the early middle ages.

Nicholas Blakey painted ‘Alfred in the Isle of Athelney’ c.1750 and it was engraved by Gérard Scotin II for inclusion in the series English History Delineated, published by John and Paul Knapton in 1751. Although the series failed after only six prints (covering the period from the Britons to the Battle of Hastings), the plates were bought by Richard Sayer, who had them reworked for a 1778 reissue. The image above is Sayer’s re-issue, reworked by the landscape-engraver François Vivares. Although Blakey’s design shows clear neoclassical influences, the image is remarkable for its (proto-)romantic, sympathetic depiction of Anglo-Saxon history and for the fact that it seems to illustrate a scene from James Thomson and David Mallet’s Alfred: A Masque rather than the relevant passage from Paul Rapin de Thoyras’ History of England, a best-selling …read more