Sir John Taylor Coleridge;
Thence by family descent
London, Royal Academy, 1839, No.264;
London, Royal Academy, Works by the Old Masters, 1880, No. 4 (lent by Lord Coleridge);
London, Royal Academy, 1893, No.15 (lent by Lord Coleridge)
The western wave was all a-flame
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.
The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
"The game is done! I've won! I've won!"
Quoth she and whistles thrice.
The subject of this remarkable painting is taken from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", published in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Lines 171 and 172, and lines 197 and 198, describe the moment when, as the sun sets, a skeleton ship appears on the horizon, on board of which are the figures of Death and Life-in-Death. These personifications throw dice for the souls of the crew of the ship, which had been cursed by the inexplicable cruelty of the ancient Mariner, who had killed the albatross which had previously safeguarded them. The soul of the ancient Mariner was won by Life-in-Death, while those of the rest of the crew were won by Death. The mariner's tortured existence was therefore fated to continue, whilst all his companions went straight to their deaths. This is one of the artist's most sublime creations and evokes comparisons with contemporary paintings by both John Martin and Francis Danby.
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