Blake Archive: Divine Comedy illustrations

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The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of electronic editions of Blake's water color and engraved illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy. Along with the illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts, the poetry of Thomas Gray, and John Milton's poems, the Dante series of 102 water colors are among Blake's most important series of illustrations to another poet. Although he engraved only 7 of the designs from the water color series, these plates show that Blake continued innovative work as a line engraver into the final days of his life. The water colors can be found in the Archive by moving through the following categories: Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Drawings and Paintings, and Water Color Drawings. The engravings can be found by moving through the following categories: Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Separate Prints and Prints in Series, Plates Designed and Engraved by Blake.

The water colors were commissioned by John Linnell, the chief patron of Blake's final years. Although Linnell did not begin to pay for the designs until December 1825, at the rate of about 1 pound a week, Blake probably began work on the drawings by the fall of 1824. They were left at Blake's death in 1827 in various stages of completion, ranging from pencil sketches to highly finished water colors. Most show an expressive freedom in the handling of color washes far greater than Blake's earlier water colors. In 1826, Blake began to engrave large plates based on 7 of the designs; these were also left incomplete at his death. Like Blake's Job engravings, the Dante plates are pure line engravings without preliminary etching. The water colors remained in Linnell's collection and estate until their sale at auction in 1918. Through a scheme organized by the National Arts-Collections Fund, they were dispersed among 7 participating
institutions: Ashmolean Museum (3 designs), Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (6 designs), British Museum (13 designs), Fogg Art Museum (23 designs) National Gallery of Victoria (36 designs), Royal Institution of Cornwall (1 design), and Tate Collection (20 designs). The engravings, first printed for sale in 1838, are reproduced from a set in the collection of Robert N. Essick.

We have also taken this opportunity to publish four more Collection Lists:Ashmolean Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Royal Institution of Cornwall, and Tate Collection. The last in this group is one of the largest and finest gatherings of Blake's drawings, water colors, and paintings. These lists can be found, along with the eighteen others previously published, under Resources for Further Research on the Archive's main Table of Contents (Home Page).

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