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Gustave Doré’s Hauntingly Beautiful Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”

Dante’s poetry endures as one of our civilization’s most enchanting creations — so much so that it has inspired generations of artists to interpret and reimagine it, from William Blake’s breathtaking etchings for the Divine Comedy to Salvador Dalí’s sinister and sensual paintings for the Inferno.

Among the most memorable and bewitching reimaginers is the celebrated French illustrator, sculptor, printmaker, and engraver Gustave Doré (January 6, 1832–January 23, 1883), who considered Dante’s work a “chefs-d’oeuvre of literature.”

In 1855, nearly three decades before his engravings for Poe’s “The Raven,” Doré began working on a series of etchings for Dante’s Inferno (public library). Unable to find a publisher who was willing to take a financial risk on the lavish folio edition he envisaged, Doré self-published it in 1861. His astonishing artwork was an instant success, catalyzing his career and appearing in more than two hundred editions of Dante in the century and a half since.

Charon, ferryman of the dead
Dante and Virgil among the gluttons
Minos, judge of the damned
Beatrice visiting Virgil in Limbo
Punishment of the Avaricious and the Prodigal
Dante and Virgil leaving the dark wood
Virgil pushes Filippo Argenti back into the River Styx
Virgil confronting the devils outside the city of Dis
Spendthrifts running through the wood of the suicides
Dante and Virgil with Brunetto Latini
Punishment of the panderers and seducers
Devils confronting Dante and Virgil
Alichino attacking Ciampolo
Punishment of the thieves
Virgil addressing the false counselors
Dante and Virgil among the falsifier
Virgil pointing out Ephialtes and the other giants
Ugolino gnawing on the brains of the Archbishop Ruggieri

Complement the Doré-illustrated Inferno with other timeless marriages of great literature and great art: Delacroix’s rare illustrations for Goethe’s Faust, William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Maurice Sendak’s formative etchings for Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,” Milton Glaser’s drawings for Lord Byron’s “Don Juan,” and Salvador Dalí’s paintings for Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the essays of Montaigne.

Published October 2, 2015




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