Salvador Dali - The Divine Comedy


Salvador Dali - The Divine Comedy


Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989)

Salvador Dali was born in Spain. By age 12 he had become interested in modern art and painting, and in 1922 began to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid. Dali searched for his style for a number of years – looking to Joan Miro, Cubism, and specifically Pablo Picasso for stylistic inspiration. By 1929, he had moved to Paris and joined the Surrealists – a group of artists and writers, led by Andrew Breton, which evolved from the Dada movement. In the 1930s, his highly recognizable artistic style flourished, and he created some of his most notable works, including The Persistence of Memory, Gala in the Window, Mae West Lips Sofa, and The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As A Table.




Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy


woodblock prints




In 1957, the Italian government commissioned Dali to create a complete set of illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the author’s birth. Dali began the arduous task of selecting imagery and creating a watercolor painting for each of the 100 cantos of the poem. Shortly after Dali started the project, the Italian government withdrew its commission. Italian citizens had been outraged that a Spanish artist had been selected for this undertaking, instead of inviting an Italian artist to honor one of Italy’s greatest authors. However, it was very fitting that one of the leading artists in the Surrealist movement would be chosen to interpret the bizarre punishments of Inferno and Purgatorio and the fantastical images of Paradiso that Dante created – drawing inspiration from classical and biblical imagery, as well as his own imagination. Interestingly, the Italian government did not select an Italian artist to complete this tribute in Dali’s place. Fortunately, Dali did not abandon his suite of watercolor illustrations, and he finished them nine years later – with complete confidence that someone would want to take on the colossal task of hand carving plates, printing the illustrations, and publishing them. The watercolors were published as wood engravings by Jean Estrade of Les Heures Claures. While similar to woodblock prints, wood engravings allow the printer to create finer, more detailed line work because the image is carved on a piece of wood that has been cut across the grain instead of parallel to the grain. Because the image is created on the end grain of the wood, it is less soft and more prints can be pulled from each block before the block begins to wear away, ultimately changing the original image. For wood engravings, separate blocks are created for each color of ink used in the image. Approximately 3,500 plates were etched for the Divine Comedy prints, averaging 35 blocks per finished print. Some prints clearly have a limited color palette, indicating fewer blocks needed to reproduce the original watercolor, while others are wildly complex in color and design, and may have required 40 – 50 blocks.


Gift of Gary Johnson


Les Heures Claires

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