Open Access

Breaking the Contract between God and the Visual-Literary Fusion: Illuminated Manuscripts, William Blake and the Graphic Novel


This essay follows three different stages of the fusion of images and words in the tradition of the book. More specifically, it tackles the transformation undergone by the initially religious combination of visual figures and scriptural texts, exemplified by medieval illuminated manuscripts into the spiritual, non-dogmatic, illuminated books printed and painted by poet-prophet William Blake in a manner that combines mysticism and literature. Eventually, the analysis reaches the secularized genre of the graphic novel that renounces the metaphysical element embedded in the intertwining of the two media. If ninth-century manuscripts such as the Book of Kells were employed solely for divinely inspired renditions of religious texts, William Blake’s late eighteenthcentury illuminated books moved towards an individual, personal literature conveyed via unique pieces of art that asserted the importance of individuality in the process of creation. The modern rendition of the image-text illumination can be said to take the form of the graphic novel with writers such as Will Eisner and Alan Moore overtly expressing their indebtedness to the above-mentioned tradition by paying homage to William Blake in the pages of their graphic novels. However, the fully printed form of this twentieth-century literary genre, along with its separation from the intrinsic spirituality of the visual-literary fusion in order to meet the demands of a disenchanted era, necessarily reconceptualize the notion of illumination.