THE FAITHORNE PORTRAIT USED AS FRONTISPIECE IS considered the standard depiction of adult Milton. In addition, we include at the head of each book of the poem the pictures from the first two fully illustrated editions of the poem, the Medina series of engravings of 1688 and the Hayman engravings of 1749.
Milton's interest in visual art is attested to by the portraits he had made of himself, even after becoming blind, and from other evidence (Frye, Milton's Imagery). Also, the poem's deep engagement of William Blake testifies to its inspiring artists rather than being a passive document. The more important and difficult issue here concerns the ways in which readers visualized the poet and Paradise Lost. That has led to the choice of the first two illustrators. The portrait and those two sets of engravings will be discussed in turn.
William Faithorne the Elder (1616–91) was London born and trained. During the period of the Long Parliament, his royalism led to arrest and exile to France and valuable artistic training. Returning to England in 1650, he became a successful printer, bookseller, crayon portraitist, and engraver. His crayon portrait of Milton, taken from life, was the basis for the engraved frontispiece of Milton's History of Britain(1670). The slight cast to the left of the original is reversed in the engraving, which also somewhat hardens the face. The original hangs in the Rare Books section of Special Collections at Princeton's Firestone Library. As Milton claimed, his blindness does not show. The depiction and the size (height ca. 10.25 inches or 27 cm., width 8 inches or 20.5 cm.) have a degree of charm seldom associated with Milton, perhaps explaining why, in the ensuing two centuries, the drawing and engraving “were copied by at least forty-five artists” (Woods, “William Faithorne”).
The priority of Paradise Lost as the first fully illustrated long English narrative poem shows that it was taken to be not simply special but special like the Bible or a classic like the Aeneid. None of Milton's earlier illustrators is as well matched as William Hogarth to Samuel Butler's Hudibras, but they do give us a sense of how earlier readers might have visualized the poem and of changing conceptions of it. In the seventeenth century that understanding involved both ways of illustrating narrative going back to the Middle Ages and new ideas chiefly from the Netherlands. Artistic techniques at once modern and more or less English do not appear until the next century.
We have made use of the first two illustrated versions, both of the twelve-book edition of the poem. In 1688 Jacob Tonson published in the fourth edition the pictures attributed to Sir John Baptist Medina (1659– 1710; see Gardner, “Milton's First Illustrator”). After study at Brussels, Medina moved to England in 1686. In response to the generous patronage offered by the fifth Earl of Leven, he moved to Scotland and, gaining success as a society portrait painter, he became known as “the Kneller of the North.” Nothing in that suggests an affinity to Milton's poem, but Medina clearly had a large hand in the illustrations. Only the figure for Book 4 is otherwise attributed, to Bernard Lens, Sr. (1631– 1708), thought to be from the Netherlands and known as an enamel painter in London. Although no engraver (as opposed to drawer) is specified for the illustration to Book 8, the rest are signed by Michael Burgese or Burghers (1653), who was born in Amsterdam and settled in Oxford where, from 1673, he practiced as an engraver connected with the university. A single engraver for the plates to the 1688 Paradise Lost may seem to suggest that all the illustrations but the fourth are by Medina. Perhaps it should also be observed, however, that whereas ten of the twelve plates are numbered in English by “Book, ” two (1 and 8) are numbered by the abbreviated Latin, “Lib.” Also, in the New York Public Library copy of this edition, there is a note attributed to Horace Walpole which credits the drawing for Book 12 to “Dr. [Henry] Aldrich, ” perhaps the versatile dean of Christ Church, Oxford (1647–1710). It has been held (Wittreich, “Illustrators”) that if that for Book 12 is by Aldrich, then probably that for Book 2 is also, on grounds of stylistic similarity. So different is the artistry of some of the figures that it is doubtful if a single artist would be presumed in the absence of Medina's names from the plates. But that difference makes it difficult to assign any but the illustration to Book 4 to another. Medina signed 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Nobody else