Secrets of Salvador Dali’s work on Dante’s Divine Comedy

Notes from Susanna Strem, Chali-Rosso Art Gallery curator

Salvador Dali set to work on Dante Alighieri’s, La Divina Commedia between 1951 and 1960. The 100 individual pieces he created culminated in a magnificent work. 

Dali managed to interpret Dante’s mastery in the language of words and to transfer it graphically into a visual language.

The Italian government of the day commissioned Dali to produce a series of illustrations. The intent was to have it accompany a deluxe edition to be issued of the Divine Comedy. Naturally, Dali being a Spanish artist and Dante being the favourite son of Italy, his work was not viewed favourably at first.

Dali Divine Comedy Purgatory

The Fallen Angel

Within the series of 100 graphic presentations, you can see Dali’s usual images including drawers, clocks and crutches. Dali continues to push the envelope.  His tendency to the powerful and extreme, as well as his showing the soft, gentle artistry matches Dante’s famous work well.


Synthesis of style

The Divine Comedy was completed just a year before Dante’s death in 1321. Both Dali and Dante’s work was infused by the influence and the many styles of the great thinkers and writers of their time.

To help him express his ideas, Dante Alighieri poured his life’s loves and the whole of his literary gifts and philosophy into his Comedy. Neither a “high” nor “low” art, this work addressed the big questions of the human reality: Is there an afterlife? What are the consequences of our lives on Earth?

Dali and Dante’s talent fusion by the numbers:

  • Dali created 100 wood engravings to illustrate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, comprising 100 verses, so called cantos.
  • The 100 cantos are divided into 3 parts: Inferno-Hell, Purgatorio-Purgatory and Paradiso-Heaven
  • The wood engravings were created between 1959 and 1963
  • 3,500 wood blocks were needed to be carved for each and every colour appearing of the images. The colours are then layered one at a time, on top of each other.

Salvador Dali’s exceptionally delicate and beautiful imaginings illustrate the scenes in Dante’s creative mind. Dali presents for us the real life people and experiences that the poet wove into his Comedy, including that of his own legendary and unrequited love for Beatrice who appears prominently in the cantos.

Learn more about the Historical background of the suite and view the actual works of Salvador Dali’s Divine Comedy.