Illustrated companion

This is probably the starting design in Blake's series known as the Large Colour Prints. These twelve prints were first made in 1795 although some examples, like this one, appear to have been produced at a later date. Blake's technique for these works was a very simple form of printmaking, which we would now call monotype. The printing plate was a piece of smooth millboard, the forerunner of today's hardboard or masonite. On this Blake painted his design using thick colours, working quickly so that no colour would have time to dry. He then laid a sheet of paper over the board and took an impression, repeating the process to obtain further impressions before the paint dried up, although these would have become progressively fainter. He then worked on the prints in pen and ink, and in watercolours, to finish them. This technique gave a richness of texture and colour greater than could be obtained from watercolour alone and helps to make these works among the most impressive of all Blake's pictures. However, the sublects of the Large Colour Prints are also of great significance, none more so than 'Elohim Creating Adam' which reveals Blake's view of the relationship between man and the God of the Old Testament, the Christian God, for whom Elohim is one of the old Hebrew names.

On the face of it the picture is a quite literal illustration of the Book of Genesis Ch.2, v.7: 'And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground'. Elohim can be seen reaching for a final handful of 'dust', although it looks more like a rather unpleasant green mud. This may be part of Blake's message, since Adam is stretched out in an agonised posture, almost as if crucified, and round his legs is coiled a great worm (not a snake). Blake's view of the creation of man by God gives a fundamental insight into his whole philosophy and vision: man, a free spirit or god himself, was trapped and enslaved by being given a material form in a material world. For Blake the God of the Old Testament was a false god and the Fall of man, the loss of Paradise, took place, not as in the orthdox Christian story, in the Garden of Eden, but at the time of creation, when man was dragged from the spiritual realm and made material.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.67