Sunday, 9 March 2008

Gustave Dore's Dante Illustrations

This illustration, by Gustave Dore, depicts Satan imprisoned in the ice, in the centre of Hell, in Dante's Inferno. This illustration was not published, perhaps most obviously because Satan appears to be sitting cross-legged. Dante specifies that Satan's legs are sticking out of the other side of the hole he is 'plugging' at the centre of the earth.

The illustration by Dore that was published is more faithful to Dante's text, with Satan only visible from the waist up. A more chilling atmosphere (no pun intended) is created by the heavy use of shadow, with Satan receding into the darkness, and Dante and Virgil highlighted against it.

Dore's Inferno illustrations are his third most popular illustrations, released in more than 200 different editions. In first and second place are his Bible illustrations (700+ editions) and Don Quixote (300+). It is said that Jack Nicholson, in preparing for his role as the devil in The Witches of Eastwick, pored over Dore's Inferno illustrations in order to get into character. There was also a copy in the Disney library during the studio's golden age, and the influence can be seen in the mise en scene of certain sequences in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Fantasia.

An updated version of the Divine Comedy was released with text by Sandro Birk and Marcus Sanders and illustrations by Sandro Birk. The illustrations are direct responses to the Dore illustrations; the rocky, infernal world of hell is re-imagined as an urban landscape reminiscent of modern-day Los Angeles.

Birk's illustrations of Heaven in Paradiso are even more interesting, controversially alluding to Hinduism and Islam in the holiest of Heaven's denizens. My only complaint is that Birk's illustrations are drawings rather than etchings, not allowing for an emulation of Dore's style, which I feel would have reinforced the point a bit more. Nevertheless, I would definitely reccomend Birk and Sanders' Divine Comedy to any fan of Dante or Dore.

1 comment:

Dionysus Black said...

Good post. I'll be following up on your recommendation of this Birk & Sanders version after I get through my already mounting bookshelf. Sounds very interesting.