The Divine Comedy originates in the plans by the Italian government to honor the 700th birthday of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. But when the project became public in 1954, an outcry went through the Italian nation. Honoring the greatest Italian poet with art prints out of the hands of a Spaniard? Could not be, should not be and would not be! Salvador Dali had worked on watercolors for the planned commemorative print series since 1951. No doubt that another publisher would jump in and be happy to fill the gap left by the Italian government. And so it happened. After the French edition, the Italian government went ahead with the original plan after all and commissioned an edition as well.
The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia) is an epic literaly work by Dante Alighieri, written in 1320, a year before his death in 1321.
Written in the first person, it describes Dante’s journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso) in 100 verses, so called cantos. The poet Virgil guides him through Inferno and Purgatorio, while Beatrice, Dante’s ideal woman, guides him through Paradiso. Beatrice was a Florentine woman whom Dante had met in childhood and admired from afar in the mode of the then-fashionable courtly love tradition.
On the surface, the work describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven but at a deeper level, it represents, allegorically, the journey and purpose of life and afterlife.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was a great poet and a master of Italian literature. The Divine Comedy is a milestone in the history of European literature. It was the first literature work not written in Latin, as it was the customs during the dark Middle Ages. Dante used the common Italian language, spoken in the Tuscany, thus helping to establish the Tuscan language.
To learn more about it and to read the actual poem click here
Beatrice and Gala
Beatrice did actually exist in Dante’s life. She was the daughter of a Florentine noble family. He adored her and made her immortal in many of his literary works. This love story reminds of the passion that Dali had for his wife, lover, muse and model Gala. On some of Dali’s designs for the 33 prints of paradise, the face and contours of Gala are clearly to be recognized. Beatrice, by the way, died at a young age and Dante married a woman named Gemma Donati from a famous Florentine family.
Dante Alighieri called his literary work Commedia because it has a happy ending. The title ‘The Divine Comedy’ was created much later after Dante’s death in Ravenna. It remained a source of inspiration for painters, writers and musicians throughout the centuries.
Dante Alighieri’s career in Florence had a bad ending. He got entangled in political rivalries of two Florentine families fighting for power. He was forced to seek exile in Verona, a Northern Italian province and died without ever having seen Florence again.
The Complete Suite
The suite consists of 100 wood engravings – one for each canto – which were created in the years 1959 to 1963 in Paris, commissioned by Joseph Foret.
Printmaking knows three groups of techniques: relief printing, planographic printing and intaglio printing. Woodcut and wood engraving are relief printing techniques and these are the oldest method of printmaking. By the 16th century it had achieved the status of an important art form with the work of Albrecht Durer.
After sketching a composition on a block of wood the artist uses knife or gouging tool to cut away pieces from the block. The artist bears in mind that the areas being cut away will not receive ink. The raised portions of the woodblock are inked with a roller. A sheet of paper is placed on top of the block and the paper is pressed, so the image gets transferred to the paper. The paper is lifted away from the block. The raised areas of the block have printed in reverse, and the recessed areas have remained blank. If more than one colour is needed separate blocks are used for each colours. For the series of The Divine Comedy 3,500 blocks were carved by two professional carvers.