Saturday, October 12, 2013


As Blake gained experience in producing illuminated books he learned to exploit the possibilities of white-line engraving to an impressive degree. Laurence Binyon in The Engraved Designs of William Blake speaks of the mastery of Blake in producing books in which his imagination controlled every aspect of conception and production. In the last of Blake's illuminated books, Jerusalem, he increased the use of white-line engraving to enhance his ability to communicate the stark contrasts available to man between life and death.

A quote from Binyon's book:

"The conception of a book as a complete unity, in which the lettering, the decoration, the illustrations, the proportions of the page, the choice of paper, should all be determined and carried out by a single mind and hand, surpassed even the conceptions of medieval scribes and miniaturists. For Blake combined not only the scribe and the illuminator, to whose arts be added the art of the  printer; but, unlike his medieval predecessors, he was the sole author of the text. In the history of book-production these works are unique.

"Blake's methods, it is true, did not lend themselves to the exquisite and finished delicacy of the miniature printers; nor could he rival their penmanship, though in the conditions of the age in which he lived we may wonder that his script is so good, and so successfully combined with decoration, as in the best of the books." (Page 23)
"Whatever may be thought of it as a  poem, however, Jerusalem is, with the Job, the grandest of Blake's works. His peculiar imagination is here at its most impressive. For what he had to say, the language of light and dark, was more expressive than any words could be...We may not know what some of the images mean; even when they are interpreted in the light of the mystic ideas, they remain much more eloquent than the interpretation. They are sometimes, no doubt, images that appeared to Blake in waking vision, and were transcribed in perfect condition that significance was in them, even if he could not himself explain it: for as he wrote on the title-page of The Daughters of Albion, 'The Eye sees more than the Heart knows.' "

(Page 33)


The following are some of the white-line etched plates of Jerusalem which are in the collection of the British Museum. Each is from Copy A, one of the four uncolored copies:

Plate 2
Plate 26

Plate 28

Plate 31

Plate 33
Plate 51

Plate 53

Jerusalem Jesus and Albion
Copy A, Plate 76
Milton Klonsky speaking of Plate 76 of Jerusalem, states in William Blake The Seer and his Visions :

"With its spidery thin and mercurial white line on a black ground, like the afterimage of a vision, the plate is generally regarded as Blake's most superb realization of the technique he described as 'woodcut on copper'; 'instead of etching the blacks Etch the whites & bite it in.'" (Page 104)

Jerusalem, Plate 96, (E 255) 
"As the Sun & Moon lead forward the Visions of Heaven & Earth 
England who is Brittannia entered Albions bosom rejoicing 

Then Jesus appeared standing by Albion as the Good Shepherd 
By the lost Sheep that he hath found & Albion knew that it 
Was the Lord the Universal Humanity, & Albion saw his Form 
 A Man. & they conversed as Man with Man, in Ages of Eternity 
And the Divine Appearance was the likeness & similitude of Los"  

In a exuberant mood while writing his youthful satiric manuscript which has come to be called An Island in the Moon, Blake picks up in mid-sentence with some ideas on illuminating a Manuscript:
Island in the Moon, (E 465)
[Here a leaf or more is missing]
them Illuminating the Manuscript--Ay said she that would be
excellent.  Then said he I would have all the writing Engraved
instead of Printed & at every other leaf a high finishd print all
in three Volumes folio, & sell them a hundred pounds a piece.
they would Print off two thousand   then said she whoever will
not have them will be ignorant fools & will not deserve to live"

No comments: