Obelisk Art History
William Blake

The Skeleton Re-Animated

The Skeleton Re-Animated, William Blake
The Skeleton Re-Animated, zoomed in
36.4 cmThe Skeleton Re-Animated scale comparison27.6 cm
See The Skeleton Re-Animated in the Kaleidoscope

The Skeleton Re-Animated is an Engraving Print created by William Blake in 1813. It lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Skeletons. Download

This emotive skeleton was drawn by William Blake when he was 56 years old. The drawing was one of forty, commissioned by Robert H. Cromek to illustrate “The Grave,” a deeply overwrought poem by scottish poet Robert Blair. You can read the full poem here, but I particularly like the lines:

O’er all those ample deserts Death hath spread,
This chaos of mankind! O great man-eater!
Whose every day is carnival, not sated yet!
Unheard-of epicure, without a fellow!

Blake’s process began with quick sketches in watercolor, blocking out compositions and figures, then moving on to detailed drawings that would be reproduced as engravings, which could be used for mass printing. Transfer engraving was it’s own lucrative industry at the time, and Blake lost the commission to engrave his own illustrations after he sent Cromek an example using white-line engraving, where ink was printed from the surface of the plate rather than from within the etched lines. The result was dramatic, but the technique was unpopular, and Cromek hired Italian transfer artist Luigi Schiavonetti to engrave the set. As you can tell from the image above, Schiavonetti was a pro.

Reed Enger, "The Skeleton Re-Animated," in Obelisk Art History, Published October 02, 2021; last modified October 02, 2021, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/william-blake/the-skeleton-re-animated/.

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William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books, Recommended Reading

Blake was both an artist and a poet, and he often combined both forms into intensely illuminated texts where tiny figures dance with the words or painted flames engulf the page. This beautiful volume reproduces these visionary works in full color.

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