In 1762, George Romney, the son of a cabinetmaker, left Lancashire for London, where he became a leading portrait painter. It was in his sketchbook drawings and later sheets, many of which are quite spirited and uninhibited, that Romney gave free rein to his imagination. In the 1790s, suffering from impaired eyesight and a series of mild strokes, the artist, reclusive by nature, became even more withdrawn and executed the intense, rapid graphite studies found in the drawings inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost. On February 4, 1792, Romney wrote in a letter to John Flaxman, “I have made, and am making designs from Milton; and mean to make several before I begin to paint them, but it is quite a secret.” That summer and the following year, he continued with the project. The specific verses illustrated in this drawing may be those from Book I, in which Satan is described: “his ponderous shield, / Ethereal temper, massy, large and round / Behind him cast. The broad circumference / Hung on his shoulders like the moon."