The subject of this large, highly finished drawing from Flaxman's mature years is difficult to identify. A note on the backboard writes of an untraced companion in the collection of Sir Colin Anderson. It clearly shows the oppostition between the angelic, though wingless, figures that occupy most of the composition and the group of crouching, downcast figures in the bottom left-hand corner from which a single uncovered head emerges. The most likely source is in the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772); a somewhat similar contrast is seen in the drawing of Evil Spirits cast out, illustrating Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia of 1749 - 56 (D. Bindman(ed.), exhibition catalogue, John Flaxman, R.A., London, Royal Academy, 1979, p. 126, no. 152, illustrated).
Flaxman, like the artist William Blake and their friend and patron Charles Augustus Tulk (1786 - 1849), was associated with the transcendent spirituality of the Swedenborgian New Church. Flaxman belonged to the first Swedenborgian study group in London in 1794, despite never renouncing his Anglican faith. Although he gave up formal contact with the New Church after about 1800 he was a founder member, with Tulk, of the 'Society for Printing and Publishing the writings of the Hon. Emmanuel Swedenborg' in 1810. (For Flaxman and Swedenborg see Bindman, loc.cit., and A. E. Wright, '"In the Spiriti": Flaxman and Swedenborg', exhibition catalogue, Flaxman, Master of the Purest Line, London, Sir John Soane's Museum and University College, 2003, pp. 17 - 18.)
We are grateful to Professor David Bindman for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.