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Vol. 56 no. 2: Fall 2022

Printing Imperfections in William Blake’s Virgil Wood Engravings and What They Reveal

23 September 2022
26 Oct. 2022


The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia, is perhaps best known to Blake scholars for its magnificent suite of watercolors illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy, which was purchased from the John Linnell sale at Christie’s in London in 1918. The NGV also holds a composite group of fourteen wood engravings that Blake designed and engraved for Dr. Robert Thornton’s Pastorals of Virgil, which were purchased in London in 1959 and are believed to have formed part of Linnell’s collection as well. At first glance, these wood engravings are underwhelming; four are quite poor impressions, and one is a unique hybrid between a print and an ink wash drawing. Nevertheless, extensive technical examination undertaken by the NGV’s paper conservation studio has revealed a range of printing imperfections, attributable to material choice and studio practices, which provide a tangible commentary on the complex history of Blake’s Virgil woodblocks and the various artists who printed from them.