Gustave Dore's Divine Comedy

Many have tried to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy. But no master has left such an indelible trace on our collective imagination as Gustave Doré.

By Balthazar Malevolent

Gustave Dore's Divine Comedy

A nineteenth-century French magazine, soon after the publication of The Illustrated Inferno, Dore's engravings of the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy, wrote: "We are inclined to believe that the concept and interpretation of the poem come from the same source. Here we have a mystical and solemn dialogue between Dante Alighieri and Gustave Doré on the infernal mysteries of the beyond, revealed to their discerning souls during this difficult journey of exploration."

The famous allegorical poem is inextricably linked to the illustrations of the great Doré in the modern perception. Even today, more than a century and a half after the first publication of his engravings, the French artist's interpretation of the Divine Comedy still defines our vision of the poem.

Dante's poem became incredibly popular in the nineteenth century, with numerous translations into French, and a series of critical studies appearing in newspapers and specialist journals.

Initially working on the illustrations of Dante's poem, Doré, despite his youth, was already the highest-paid illustrator in France, with popular editions of François Rabelais and Honoré de Balzac. However, he was unable to convince his publisher, Louis Hachette, to finance such an ambitious and costly project. Therefore, the publication of the first book of 1861 was financed by the artist himself.

In illustrating Dante's poem, the French artist found an unusual combination of styles. His engravings intertwine features of the Renaissance style (Michelangelo above all) with elements of the northern landscape tradition and Doré's contemporary French pop culture.

The artist later illustrated many other books, from the Bible to Edgar Poe's The Raven. However, his finest hour was still Dante's Divine Comedy.

Divine Comedy - Gustave Dore
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