WILLIAM BLAKE'S (1757-1827) last and perhaps most beautiful illustrations were his 102 drawings and 9 etchings for Dante's Divine Comedy. Blake was commissioned to do them after finishing his engravings of The Book of Job.1 Blake's illustrations, rather than his poems, may be his most enduring legacy. At age 67 years, he taught himself medieval Italian in preparation for illustrating The Divine Comedy. Blake is mostly true to Dante's story, although he is in dialogue with him and brings his own religious views to the task, shown by his marginal notes on the illustrations.2- 3 Because Blake reported religious visions, those who did not know him well sometimes questioned his sanity; his defenders, however, thought the visions were the products of an active imagination. Indeed, Blake saw the imagination as the spiritual sense.
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William Blake (1757-1827), English. The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides, 1824-1827. Illustration to Hell, Canto 13 of Dante's Divine Comedy. Watercolor. Copyright Tate Gallery, London/Art Resource, NY.
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