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Dali Divine Comedy -From Watercolor to Wood Engraving

Dali Divine Comedy -From Watercolor to Wood Engraving

Salvador Dalí and the illustration of The Divine Comedy

In the mid-1950s, Salvador Dalí was invited by the Italian government to create a series of illustrations for a luxurious version of Dante’s The Divine Comedy to be published by La Libreria dello Stato (Italian State Press) in Rome. Between 1951 and 1960 Dali made 101 watercolors for this project.

The watercolors were shown at the Palazzo Pallavici in Rome. However, the reception of Dalí’s creations in Italy was amazingly negative, because it did not seem appropriate that a Spanish artist was invited to illustrate a commemorative edition of the best Italian poets’ masterpiece to be published by the State Press. The fact that he’s considered an irreverent Surrealist and sometimes fascist sympathizer did not help and the project was dropped in Italy.

Dalí strove to see its fulfillment.

In the late 1950s, Dali met the French publisher, Joseph Foret, who had issue Dalí’s series of lithographs for Cervantes’ Don Quixote in 1957-1958. After viewing a gathering of the watercolors for The Divine Comedy at Dalí’s studio, Foret energetically set out to discover support for his creation.

He took it to the outstanding French editors and book publishers Les Heures Claires where he received similarly excited support for the project. The directors of Les Heures Claires than instantly took full charge of the task; Mr. Riviere, the Financial Director, Mr. Blainon, the Marketing and Sales Director, and Mr. Jean Estrade, the Artistic Director.

From watercolor to… wood engraving!

It was Mr. Estrade’s duty to work specifically with Dalí and the engravers to create the works. The engraver, Raymond Jacquet with his assistant, Mr. Tarrico, create the wood blocks necessary to transfer Dali’s watercolors to wood engravings, a medium chosen because of its capacity to reproduce subtle washes of color and delicate linear drawing.

For this case somewhere from twenty to as many as of thirty-seven separate blocks were needed to replicate each watercolor!

Despite the fact that in the 1980s Dalí’s raids into printmaking were regularly inserted in a discussion, due mostly to the undocumented and apparently unlimited printing of some of his images, this series of prints was strictly controlled, and the 3000 woodblocks (approximately) used to make them were crushed after the printing.

Furthermore, it is clear that his interests in such a task were literary, artistic and spiritual, rather than financial.

Want to know this TOP work better?

Follow this link for the 3 series of prints and comment with your favorite print in each and the reason for the choice! 😉

Want to know more about this artist?

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  • Kasia March 6, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    everything made by Dali is like a synonim of perfection <3

    • TOP Team March 6, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      You’re right! He really was a genius regardless of his controversial style … Thanks for visiting. 😉

  • Vasco March 11, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Amazing to find these prints. I’m a huge fan of Dali work!

    • TOP Team March 12, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Hello Vasco.
      Thanks for the visit and comment. 😉

  • Herwig March 27, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Unfortunately the link “Inferno Series” is misleading (does the correct page exist?). Apart from that: thanks for posting the photos of the prints!

    • TOP Team March 27, 2019 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Herwing,
      The link is now working correctly.
      Thank you very much for your comment and for helping us improve.


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