Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí’s (1904-1989) illustrations of the Divine Comedy take the viewer on Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) allegorical journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso). Best known for his vivid evocations of subconscious fears and desires, Dalí forged an imaginative visual language well suited to the wondrous imagery of Dante’s world view, as it was shaped by Western medieval theology and philosophy.
Dalí made 100 watercolor paintings to fulfill a 1957 commission by the Italian government to produce a limited edition of prints in celebration of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth. The project was scheduled for completion in 1965, yet the Italian public complained about the government’s choice of a Spanish artist to commemorate a national cultural icon. The government conceded to the pressure and subsequently cancelled the contract with Dalí in 1964. However, at that point Dalí was committed to completing the series and worked with French Publishers Editions les Heures Claires and Editions Joseph Horet to produce the suite.
Dalí chose an uncommon, wood-engraving method for the production of the prints in order to yield a hand-painted, watercolor appearance. Artist Raymond Jacquet and his assistant Jean Taricco, working under the supervision of Dalí, engraved wood blocks by cutting an aspect of the design into the surface. After this step they applied a color and then printed the image. Next, they cut away the existing engraving so that the block could be prepared for the next color. The process took five years and was painstaking, requiring the carving of 3,500 blocks, or roughly 35 separate blocks per print. The suite was printed in three separate editions between 1969 and 1974, first in French, then Italian, and later in German.
Salvador Dali’s Dante’s Divine Comedy prints are a part of the Gund Gallery Collection and are available for use by Kenyon faculty for teaching and research.