In A Blake Dictionary, S. Foster Damon states, "Michelangelo was to Blake's painting what Milton was to Blake's poetry." Although Blake never had the opportunity to see Michelangelo's great frescoes in Italy he became acquainted through prints and copies with the power and mastery of Michelangelo. From the time Blake was a child he acquired prints of the old masters as opportunities arose. He reluctantly sold his collection in 1821 when his finances had reached at a low ebb.
Michelangelo before the Roman Colosseum,
Fuseli's Lectures on Painting from 1801,
Engraved by Blake for Fuseli
Blake had no patience with those who did not recognize that Michelangelo and Raphael stood at a zenith of artistic accomplishment.
Annotations to Reynolds , (E 639)
"I was once looking over the Prints from Rafael & Michael Angelo. in the Library of the Royal Academy Moser came to me & said You should not Study these old Hard Stiff & Dry Unfinishd Works of Art, Stay a little & I will shew you what you should Study. He then went & took down Le Bruns & Rubens's Galleries How I did secretly Rage. I also spoke my Mind [line cut away]I said to Moser, These things that you call Finishd are not Even Begun how can they then, be Finishd? The Man who does not know The Beginning, never can know the End of Art"
What Blake admired in art was the expression of the inner connection with Eternal realities. Art that involved itself with the superficial whether in technical skill, subject matter or popular style, was not worth his attention. He saw in Michelangelo and Raphael the finest ability to present the depths of man in relationship to God. He associated their skills with presenting the lineament of man, (God's image in man) as expressed in line and color.
Descriptive Catalogue , Page 46, (E 544)
"Painting and Sculpture as it exists in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more modern genius, is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is perfect and eternal. Milton, Shakspeare, Michael Angelo, Rafael, the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting, and Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo and Egyptian, are the extent of the human mind. The human mind cannot go beyond the gift of God, the Holy Ghost. To suppose that Art can go beyond the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world, is not knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the spirit."
Art, to Blake, was the projection in the world of the Imagination in Man. The Imagination being the connection between God and man was in other words the Holy Spirit. Since Art represented the activity of the Divine Body it was not to be taken lightly or distorted by men who had no perception of the infinite.
Descriptive Catalogue, Page 27, (E 538)
"As there is a class of men, whose whole delight is in the destruction of men, so there is a class of artists, whose whole art and science is fabricated for the purpose of destroying art. Who these are is soon known: "by their works ye shall know them." All who endeavour to raise up a style against Rafael, Mich. ngelo, and the Antique; those who separate Painting from Drawing; who look if a picture is well Drawn; and, if it is, immediately cry out, that it cannot be well Coloured-- those are the men."
The production of graphic art occupied more of Blake's time and energy than did his writing of poetry and prose. Until the day he died he kept his pen, pencils and paints at the ready to allow the images from his spirit to flow onto the paper.