Illustrations to Dante’s Inferno.
1838. [London: for John Linnell, 1838].
7 plates, oblong folio, printed on laid paper only (not on India), lightly cleaned, in fine condition.
§ First printing (subsequent to a few proofs possibly pulled by Blake himself) preceding the 1838 printing on laid india on wove paper. Essick states (Blake Quarterly, vol. 24, issue 3): “The next impressions to be pulled after Blake’s own working proofs are probably those printed directly on laid paper (not to be confused with India paper laid on wove) showing clear wire and chain lines, the latter approximately 3.7 cm. apart. Such a set was sold from the Doheny Memorial Library at Christie’s New York, 21 February 1989, lot 1713, plate 2 illustrated in the auction catalogue [this set]. Part of a watermark, or countermark, “A & D,” is present in plate 3. The heavy foxing of most impressions in this set [now cleaned] cannot mask the fact that these are superb impressions that justify a record price. All major engraved lines are dark, rich, and precise, while the drypoint sketching lines yet to be cut with the graver are delicately yet fully printed. Each plate in this suite reveals its superiority over all India-paper impressions I have seen. Much of this excellence is the result of expert inking and wiping of the plates’ surfaces, but the quality of these impressions also indicates that the copperplates had not begun to show any effects of wear. The clarity with which each line is printed, even in densely engraved passages, without any blurring of the boundaries between lines, suggests that the edges of each incision were still sharp and had not yet rounded to a gradual slope. This rounding can begin to occur after as few as ten impressions have been pulled from a copperplate. This initial wear is probably caused both by running the plates through the rolling press and by the inking process, for the craftsman must wipe the surface of an intaglio copperplate with dozens of strokes of his hand in preparation for taking a single impression.”
Incomplete at the time of his death in 1827, Blake’s illustrations for the Divine Comedy, commissioned by John Linnell, are some of his finest and most affecting inventions. From 102 illustrations, ranging from pencil sketches to finished watercolors, Blake made seven engravings, also left incomplete. Though unfinished, these prints are still reckoned amongst the most powerful and moving of Blake’s images and are especially impressive by virtue of their large size. Item #107294