Blake Archive: color-printed drawings

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The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication this week of electronic editions of Blake's 12 large color printed drawings, designed and first printed in 1795. They are presented in our Preview mode, one that provides all the features of the Archive except Image Search and Inote (our image annotation program). They can be found in the Archive by moving through the following categories: Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Separate Prints and Prints in Series, and Color Printed Drawings.

Blake's 12 large color prints are often considered to be his greatest works as a pictorial artist. Both their sublime imagery and Blake's printmaking technique evolved out of his illuminated books of 1790-95. Although at least one of the designs, God Judging Adam, shows evidence of having been printed from a copperplate etched in relief, the other 11 subjects were probably printed from the unetched surfaces of copperplates or millboards (a thick cardboard). No more than 3 impressions from any one printing matrix are extant. At least 2 of the designs, and probably a good many others, were reprinted c. 1805. As with the illuminated books, each impression of the same basic image is different due to variations--some purposeful, some accidental--in both printing and hand-coloring. The selection of 23 impressions presented here includes at least one impression of each design. All 4 versions of Pity, including the small version printed from a different matrix, are included.

Modern scholars have interpreted the connections among the designs and their iconography, but no interpretation has become definitive. It seems as though the 12 subjects are not a series with a fixed sequence, but rather a group of designs centered upon images of the fallen world. Within that general group are a few companion prints, such as Elohim Creating Adam and Satan Exulting over Eve, associated in subject, design, or both. The textual sources for the images range from the Bible to Shakespeare, Milton, and Blake's own poetic mythologies of the mid-1790s.

As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible through the continuing support of the Library of Congress, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, by a major grant from the Preservation and Access Division of the National Endowment for the Humanities, by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and by the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.

Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors
Andrea Laue, technical editor
The William Blake Archive