Working, by his own account, under the inspiration of his recently-deceased brother Robert, in 1788 Blake invented a new form of relief etching in colour. Using this ‘illuminated printing’ method to combine texts and images, Blake created a series of poems and ‘prophetic books’ including Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789–94), America a Prophecy (1793), Europe a Prophecy (1794), Milton (1804–11) and Jerusalem (1804–20).
Although Blake’s paintings and watercolours are richly represented at Tate, his printmaking has been collected more extensively by the national collections held by the V&A and British Museum. The ‘illuminated books’ are represented here by later reprints and separate images that Blake printed without the textual elements. Blake’s most ambitious series of separate prints was his ‘Large Colour Prints’ (c.1795–1805) showing subjects from the Bible, Milton, Shakespeare and his imagination. These were created using a form of relief printing combined with hand colouring to create rich painterly images he described as ‘frescos’.