William Blake was born in london in 1757, the son of a small tradesman. He soon began to show his artistic inclinations, and at the age of fouteen he was apprenticed to an engraver under whose directions he received a good training.
He devoloped his own original relief-engraving technique, the "illuminated rinting", which he used for the rest of his life to produce his artistic an poetic works. Thanks to this technique, both words and decorations remained in relief and could be printed in any tint that the artist felt like using. He followed this trade throughout his life, and in his own time he was better known as an engraver that as a writer.
In spite of being a visionary, Blake was indifferent to the political and social issues of his time, and responded passionately to the cruelty of the slave trade or to the inhumane exploitation of children, especially the chimney sweepers. Current affairs inspired some of his early prophetic works. The French Revolution, a Prophecy (1791), and America, a Prophecy, (1793) celebrated the revolution in France and the independence of the American colonies, while Vision of the Daughters of Albion (1793) denounced the subordination of women.
Between 1794 and 1795 the other prophetic works appeared. In poems like The Book of Urizen (1794) and The Song and book of Los – just to quote the most famous – Blake developed his own mythology. The symbolism of these works is hard to decode, because it is based on the poet’s own mystical and metaphysical system. The same vision emerges from his great symbolical poems Milton and Jerusalem –these last works contain beautiful lyrics, but they are not easily understood.
Blake was often disappointed by the lack of recognition that his work received, and suffered from fits of depression. From 1810 to 1817 he lived in retirement and poverty, occasionally selling copies of his books.
His last years were happier. He met young artists who appreciated his art and helped him get more work. In 1825 he made illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and was still working at them when he died in 1827.