Blake's engraving of Death's Door for Blair's Grave
Blake's watercolor of Death's Door from which the engraving was made (courtesy of Blake Archive).
Click on image to see the perfection of Blake's line and the delicate use of color.
Schiavonetti's engraving of Blake's image as published in Cromek's edition of Blair's Grave
Illustrations to the Grave eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
W. J. T. Mitchell's chapter Blake's Composite Art in the anthology Blake's Visionary Forms Dramatic edited by Erdman and Grant, attempts to enlighten us on how the relationship of the two sides of Blake's genius, painting and poetry can best be understood. He sees the resolution of contraries including line (form) and color (light) in the images, to be the exercise which Blake continually repeats.
"In spite of his theoretical preference for outline and form, Blake often obscures his outlines with opaque pigments and heavy drapery.
The resolution of this apparent contradiction between theory and practice lies in a fuller understanding of the theory. The subservience of light to form is, for Blake, a visual equivalent of an ideal condition:
Jerusalem, PLATE 54, (E 203)
In Great Eternity, every particular Form gives forth Emanates
Its own peculiar Light, & the Form is the Divine Vision
And the Light is his Garment
The relation of form to light is defined as that of the individual and his Emanation, or of consciousness and the external world which it projects. With the fall, however, consciousness becomes egotism (male will) and the external world becomes an independent Nature (female will). Form and light become, in this world, sexual principles working in opposition. The resolution of this opposition is attained by a procedure rather similar to the one we observed in the relation of text and design, a dialectic of contraries. When female nature, for instance, assumes an independent existence, it becomes 'An outside shadowy surface super-added to the real Surface; Which is unchangeable' (Jerusalem, Plate 83, E 241); that is color freed from outline and obscuring it is the visual equivalent of nature's obfuscating the imagination. The veil or garment is often used as a metaphor for this idea of this idea of color, and disposition of drapery in Blake's pictures can be seen to follow the same principles as his treatment of color... Blake clothes many of his figures to exhibit their immersion into the fallen world of time and space... In the 'Death's Door' illustration to Blair's Grave Blake similarly contrasts the entry into death (i.e., the fallen world) with the 'awakening to Eternal life' by setting the clothed figure who enters the grave against the naked figure atop the grave."
Jerusalem, Plate 83, (E 241)
[Voice of Los]
"That whatever is seen upon the Mundane Shell, the same
Be seen upon the Fluctuating Earth woven by the Sisters
And sometimes the Earth shall roll in the Abyss & sometimes
Stand in the Center & sometimes stretch flat in the Expanse,
According to the will of the lovely Daughters of Albion.
Sometimes it shall assimilate with mighty Golgonooza:
Touching its summits: & sometimes divided roll apart.
As a beautiful Veil so these Females shall fold & unfold
According to their will the outside surface of the Earth
An outside shadowy Surface superadded to the real Surface;
Which is unchangeable for ever & ever Amen: so be it!
Separate Albions Sons gently from their Emanations,
Weaving bowers of delight on the current of infant Thames
Where the old Parent still retains his youth as I alas!
Retain my youth eight thousand and five hundred years.
The labourer of ages in the Valleys of Despair!"
Near the conclusion of his chapter Mitchell states:
"Significance is located in the dialectic between the permanence of outline and the mutability and momentary reality of color, just as in the poetry the continuity of consciousness is affirmed and realized in its ability persistently to give form to the changing manifestations of itself and the world it perceives." (Page 80)