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Vol. 48 no. 1: Summer 2014

Inscriptions by Blake for His Designs

  • G. E. Bentley, Jr.
27 June 2014
27 Jun. 2014


Blake often wrote inscriptions on his designs, but only the most important have been recorded in comprehensive editions of his writings. A good many seem never to have been recorded in editions of Blake’s writings or in concordances of them. Some are brief titles, such as “Pestilence” and “Nimrod.” Some are part of the design, such as “MENE TEK,” “ΠAPIS,” and “Elizabeth Rex.” Often they identify the scene illustrated, as in the separate descriptions of the designs for the poems of Gray and Milton. A few are in Greek, Hebrew, Italian, or Latin.

Occasionally, what is not written is as interesting as what is written. Thus in Blake’s transcription of Genesis, he twice omitted “and God saw that it was good” (1.18, 25), and in “the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (4.15), he omitted “lest any finding him should kill him.”

Because these inscriptions are little known, it seems worthwhile to record here as many of them as possible. The information derives chiefly from Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake (1981). For inscriptions within the drawing, the source is Butlin vol. 2: Plates; for inscriptions outside the picture, the source is Butlin vol. 1: Text.