Fragment of a cancelled copper plate from William Blake’s America

Contributor: Robert Rix

Location: Library of Congress, Washington DC

Description: The poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) printed his Illuminated Books, combining text and picture, from copper plates. The technique he used was unique and is still subject to debate. We know that he wrote directly on the copper with an acid-resistant liquid; he then proceeded to cover the plate in corrosive acid that etched away the uncovered areas of the plate, leaving text and design in relief, which was finally inked and placed in a rolling press. The exhibit shows how Blake painted text in mirror writing so that the plate, when pressed against the paper, prints in normal script. Legend has it that Blake was instructed in this peculiar printing technique in 1788, when his dead brother, Robert, appeared to him in a vision. However, Blake never gave any detailed account of how his etchings were made. The exhibit is the only surviving fragment on which Blake’s etching technique is visible. It has therefore been of great interest to critics who have tried to reconstruct how Blake made his Illuminated Books.

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The Golden Horns

The Golden Horns

Contributor: Robert W. Rix

Location: The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

Description: In December 1802, Adam Oehlenschläger (1779–1850) published Digte [Poems], a collection of new poetry which is today widely regarded as having inaugurated literary romanticism in the Nordic countries. In this collection, the most famous poem is ‘Guldhornene’ [The Golden Horns], which focuses on two horns made of sheet gold, which had recently been stolen from the Kunstkammer (Royal Collection) at Christiansborg palace, Copenhagen. The two horns were archaeological finds that have since been dated to the early fifth century. They were discovered in Gallehus, southern Denmark, at locations only a few metres apart, in 1639 and in 1734, respectively. The horns were for ceremonial use and had numerous figures (anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and hybrid subjects) embossed on their sides. One of the horns also bore a runic inscription in Elder Futhark. The theft and the subsequent police investigation were followed closely in the press; ‘Guldhornene’ can be situated as part of that national fascination with the loss of these artefacts.

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