Last Updated on 2024/02/14
Gustave Doré (1832-1883) was a French artist, illustrator, and sculptor.
In Italy, he gained endless fame because of his beautiful illustrations of Dante’s Divina Commedia.
Born in France in 1832, Gustave Doré became a prolific artist renowned for his intricate and imaginative works. Among his most celebrated achievements are his illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, Divine Comedy. Completed between 1858 and 1868, these illustrations gained Doré widespread recognition and continue to captivate audiences today.
Composed between 1308 and 1321, Divine Comedy is an allegorical poem depicting Dante’s fictional journey through the three realms of the afterlife: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven). Each realm symbolizes different moral and spiritual states, with Inferno representing sin and its consequences.
Doré’s illustrations for Inferno stand out for their masterful use of line art, intricate details, and dramatic shading. They vividly depict the various landscapes and creatures Dante encounters, from the fiery depths of Hell to the chilling frozen lake of Cocytus. His artistic interpretations brought the poem’s characters and scenes to life, captivating readers with their visual intensity.
Beyond their technical proficiency, Doré’s illustrations imbued Inferno with additional layers of meaning. His choices in composition, symbolism, and character portrayal offered visual interpretations of the poem’s complex themes, such as sin, punishment, redemption, and the human condition.
The Divine Comedy, has been a source of inspiration for many artists for centuries. The complete set of Doré’s illustrations for Divine Comedy included 135 images, with 99 dedicated to Inferno. His illustrations were originally published in woodcuts, a printing technique utilizing carved wooden blocks. Doré’s work on Divine Comedy is considered a major contribution to Romanticism, an artistic movement emphasizing emotion, imagination, and individuality.
Illustrations of Dante’s Inferno
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered over
Dante meets Roman Poet Virgil
Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage
Then he moved on,
and I behind him followed.
Day was departing.
Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go
The gate of Hell
Abandon all hope ye who enter here
And, lo! toward us in a bark,
Comes on an old man, hoary white with eld,
Crying, “Woe to you, wicked spirits!”
Charon herds the sinners onto his boat
Charon the demon, with eyes of glede,
Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.
The Virtuous pagans
Lost are we and only so far punished,
That without hope we live on in desire.
Dante is accepted as an equal by the great Greek and Roman poets
Thus I beheld assemble the fair school
Of that lord of the song pre-eminent,
Who o’er the others like an eagle soars.
Minos judges the sinners.
There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls;
Examins the transgressions at the entrance;
Judges, and sends according to he girds them.
[Each time his tail wraps round the sinner represents one circle further down]
The hurricane of souls
The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onwards in its rapine
Canto XV. Dante is interested in why two souls within the hurricane are treated much more gently than all others:
Francesca da Rimini
O Poet, willingly,
Speak would I to those two, who go together,
And seem upon the wind so light.
Francesca da Rimini
Love has conducted us unto one death;
Caina waiteth him who quenched our life
Francesca da Rimini
That day no further we read within
[Francesca di Rimini had an affair with her brother-in-law and both were murdered by her husband.]
I swooned away as if I had been dying,
And fell, even as a dead body falls.
Not all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or even hath been, or there toil-worn souls,
Might purchase rest for one.
The Severed Head of Bertrand de Born speaks
Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell
Count Ugolino gnawing the Head of Ruggieri.
Virgil shows Dante the Shade of Thaïs
Canto XXXIV – Lucifer, King of Hell
Megaera, Tisipone, and Alecto
The Thieves tortured by Serpents
Ciampolo escaping from the Demon Alichino
The Minotaur on the Shattered Cliff
The Flaming Spirits of the evil Counsellors
Call thou to mind
Piero of Medicina, if again
Returning, thou behold’st the pleasant land
That from Vercelli slopes to Mercabó.
Virgil reproves Dante’s Curiosity
The Hypocrites address Dante
Dante addresses Pope Nicholas III
Harpies in the Forest of Suicides
Mutilated Shades of Mahomet
The Descent of the Abyss on Geryon’s Back
Translation by Henry W. Longfellow, , Published by Arcturus Books, 2007.
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