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Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet by William Blake was engraved as a wood engraving on paper in 1821. This particular wood engraving was part of a series of commissions to illustrate Robert John Thornton's The Pastorals of Virgil, with work on the piece beginning in 1819 and concluding by 1821.
The wood engraving is based on the poem 'Thenot and Colinet' by Ambrose Philips, a British writer inspired by the Ancient Roman tales of the poet Virgil. Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet by William Blake echoes much of the peace and tranquility that many poets imagined rural and pastoral Roman life could have been like.
Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet by William Blake may seem at first glance to be a little simplistic, with the two shepherds, Thenot and Colinet, standing at either side of the engraving with their flock in the centre. The stylised sun is also reminiscent of children's picture books, taking up the entire horizon with its assumed brightness and exaggerated rays. The rest of the background is again a little basic, with just rolling hills and a small house. However, despite its apparent simplicity, this series of engravings were highly popular at the time as an accompaniment to The Pastorals of Virgil text, with other artists noting their likeness to medieval tapestries in their layout and design. It is also important when considering Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet by William Blake to remember how small this wood engraving was, in order to fully appreciate the extent of Blake's dexterity and skill as an engraver.
By 1821, William Blake was already recognised as one of the leading British engravers of his time. He began a friendship with fellow artist and engraver, John Linnell, who was so inspired by Blake that he formed a following of the artist, with the group collectively known as the Ancients. John Linnell had previously completed several black and white sketches of the Thenot and Colinet story, and played an integral role in ensuring that William Blake, his artistic hero, should receive the commission for the wood engravings of the same poem.
Throughout all the different branches of his artwork, from engravings such as Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet, to his literary works and paintings, William Blake was able to combine his politically motivated conscience with the ability to mix traditional mythology and modern themes. Frontispiece, Thenot and Colinet by William Blake was engraved towards the end of Blake's career, but he still continued to test himself and innovate, using wood for the first time with this particular work.