Dante’s Comedy Devine and Its Influence on Art History
Perhaps the most enduringly popular 19th-century Dante-themed work is that of French illustrator Gustave Doré. During his lifetime he did watercolors, ink washes, oils and white gouaches of certain scenes from Hell, but it is his series of tonal woodcuts that represent the point culminating in his career in terms of technical dexterity and commercial success. With this massive effort, Doré sought to bridge the gap between fine art and illustration, and although he enjoyed commercial success, it appears he failed to achieve this particular mission.
“Doré’s success is due to the international dissemination of his work in numerous translations of the Divine comedy, and her much-appreciated “visionary eye,” says Professor Deborah Parker. “Doré’s illustrations have clear outlines, dynamically positioned figures and striking juxtapositions of dark and light tones.
Dante Divine comedy was also performed in several different styles which continued to characterize twentieth century art. The interpretation of Franz von Bayros (1886-1924) is in a style that can be easily recognized as Art Nouveau. Although primarily known for his erotic illustrations, von Bayros combines Art Nouveau symbolism and imagery for this series. Yet Von Bayros’ illustrations are more erotic than comparable works by other artists, and he tended to portray less culturally popular passages that other artists were unaware of.
In 1950, in preparation for the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, the Italian government commissioned Salvador Dalí to illustrate the Divine comedy. Dalí, performed the entire Commedia in lithographs accompanying the text of the poem, each section displaying a specific aesthetic: Hell is surreal, dreamlike and fantastic; Purgatorio’s aesthetic is existentially expressionist; and Paradiso is the most traditional in its composition, so that it produces a more joyful, almost religious aesthetic.
Between 1958 and 1960, the multidisciplinary artist Robert Rauschenberg created a series of drawings dedicated to Dante’s Hell. He combined his own drawings and watercolors with images transferred with a chemical solvent from reproductions of glossy magazines. In his drawings, he places the Comedy in a contemporary context: JFK and Adlai Stevenson appear in the series. Through Dante’s symbols and intelligent framework, he manifested his personal revulsion at the transgressions of modern civilization.