When Dante first dreamed up his remarkable tale of the Divine Comedy, his only tool was his pen on paper. He had to paint a picture in the readers’ minds, merely by using his remarkable ability of wielding descriptive language. Reading page after page of his words, it is impossible not to create an image in one’s mind of the amazing sights he speaks of. In fact, it inspired two of the readers so much that they used their artistic abilities to bring Dante’s images to life for the whole world to see! The two prominent men I’m speaking of are none other than William Blake and Gustave Doré.
William Blake, considered crazy by most, probably began his drawings of Dante’s epic poem in 1824. When he died in 1827, there were 102 pieces found ranging from rough sketches to intricate watercolors. A wonderful aspect of Blake’s works is that he paid very much attention to detail. Reading the text and viewing his images side by side show very little discrepancies. Blake remained very true to the poem, only adding in his own flair and interpretations when it comes to central themes that aren’t specifically pictured by Dante: sin, guilt, revenge, etc. Some of the images even indicate a critical tone towards Dante, but still no one can argue that Blake was completely enthralled with Dante’s work. His images will never be forgotten (Blake Archive, 2012).
The second artist to take on Dante’s work, but possibly the most well known, was Gustave Doré. He began his drawings of the Divine Comedy in the 1850’s. His illustrations of the epic poem have become so intricately associated with Dante, that to this day, Doré’s artwork is what most people call to mind when reading the text. The story and the fantastical images now go hand in hand. Gustave had a difficult time finding someone to publish his drawings at first, so he saved up enough money by himself to pay for the publishing of the first book in the series: The Inferno. This turned out to be a profitable venture, seeing as how his illustrations ended up in approximately 200 editions of Dante’s poem, including several in multiple languages (Aida Audeh, 2012). You’ll probably even recognize some of his work!
With the addition of illustrations, a text can be taken to a whole other level! Pictures in your head can be transformed into colorful pages of art for the whole world to see! Blake and Doré, with their masterful talents, brought the Divine Comedy to life. I think Dante would be proud!
Audeh, Aida (2012). The World of Dante. http://www.worldofdante.org/gallery_dore.html
Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Blake Archive. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/work.xq?workid=but812&java=no