Van Gogh •
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William Blake, poet, engraver, painter, and mystic, was born and lived almost his entire life in
London. He was apprenticed to an engraver at the age of
fourteen and began to write and publish his own books when he was twenty-six. His most famous book of poems, "Songs of Innocence", appeared in 1789. It was written, printed, engraved, and bound by the artist himself, with the aid of his wife. Although Blake never left England, he studied the work of Michelangelo and the Italian Mannerists from a large collection of engravings, and he was one of several artists influenced by John Henry Fuseli, an Anglo-Swiss painter who worshiped Shakespeare and Michelangelo. Blake, for his part, was devoted to the Bible, to Dante, and to Milton. He also admired the medieval period and conceived of his own books as eighteenth-century successors to the illuminated manuscripts of the medieval monks.
His work is religious or mystical in expression and romantic in spirit. It is full of movement, flickering or glaring light, medieval symbols, and
mannerist musculature and arrangement. Blake was noted for his scrupulous honesty and resisted all offers of patronage by the rich, preferring to work in poverty and independence. He was comparatively unknown in England until 1818, when one of his disciples, John Linnell, organized a group who bought Blake's drawings and helped secure commissions for The Book of Job and The Devine Comedy. Blake died before the latter was completed, having engraved only seven of the one hundred watercolors he had made for the book.