Edward Calvert was one of the principal members of the artistic brotherhood known as The Ancients; youthful devotees of William Blake who were attracted to the moral and aesthetic values of early Renaissance art. Meeting at Samuel Palmer’s cottage in the village of Shoreham, Kent, they reveled in the discovery of an unspoiled countryside that evoked the pastoral ideals of a bygone era. They made art that probed the hidden essence beneath the visible world; enchanted landscapes and rural scenes where every sheepfold, star and furrow is charged with spiritual significance.
Produced in the year of Blake’s death, The Ploughman, or Christian Ploughing the Last Furrow of Life, was the first of Calvert’s visionary wood engravings. Its title is an allusion to Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” The ploughman’s gaze fixed upon the vision of the Good Shepard, he is protected from the serpent that would strike at his heel. Calvert often juxtaposed Christian and Pagan imagery, as in the nude musicians dancing among the trees.