For Immediate Release
February 15, 2013
For more information, contact
Brockport, NY – Salvador Dalí devoted nine years to illustrating Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, utilizing his surrealist technique to portray the allegorical nature of the epic poem, depicting Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Using watercolors, Dalí depicted each of the 100 cantos that comprise Dante’s work. One of the last remaining complete sets of the woodblock prints of Dalí’s work will be presented in Salvador Dalí: Dante’s Divine Comedy, an exhibit on loan from the Ewing Gallery at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The exhibit will open with a reception at The College at Brockport’s Tower Fine Arts Center Gallery on Thursday, February 28, 2013, from 4 – 6 pm. The exhibit runs through March 29, but will be closed from March 16 – 24 for academic break. The gallery is located at 180 Holley Street, Brockport, and the exhibit is free and open to the public.
Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) was born in Spain. As a young artist he searched for a style to make his own, and by 1929, he joined the Surrealists in Paris. The 1930s found him creating some of his most notable works, including The Persistence of Memory, Gala in the Window, Mae West Lips Sofa, and The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As A Table.
In 1957, the Italian government commissioned Dalí to create a complete set of illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the author’s birth. Dalí began the arduous task of selecting imagery and creating a watercolor painting for each of the 100 cantos of the poem. Shortly after Dalí started the project, the Italian government withdrew its commission. Italian citizens had been outraged that a Spanish artist had been selected for this undertaking, instead of inviting an Italian artist to honor one of Italy’s greatest authors. However, it was very fitting that one of the leading artists in the Surrealist movement would be chosen to interpret the bizarre punishments of Inferno and Purgatorio and the fantastical images of Paradiso that Dante created — drawing inspiration from classical and biblical imagery, as well as his own imagination. Interestingly, the Italian government did not select an Italian artist to complete this tribute in Dalí’s place.
Fortunately, Dalí did not abandon his suite of watercolor illustrations, and he finished them nine years later — with complete confidence that someone would want to take on the colossal task of hand carving plates, printing the illustrations, and publishing them. The watercolors were published as wood engravings by Jean Estrade of Les Heures Claures. While similar to woodblock prints, wood engravings allow the printer to create finer, more detailed line work because the image is carved on a piece of wood that has been cut across the grain instead of parallel to the grain. Because the image is created on the end grain of the wood, it is less soft and more prints can be pulled from each block before the block begins to wear away, ultimately changing the original image. For wood engravings, separate blocks are created for each color of ink used in the image. Approximately 3,500 plates were etched for the Divine Comedy prints, averaging 35 blocks per finished print. Some prints clearly have a limited color palette, indicating fewer blocks needed to reproduce the original watercolor, while others are wildly complex in color and design, and may have required 40 – 50 blocks.
Dalí was not the first artist to be inspired by Dante’s epic poem, nor was he the first to complete an illustration for each of the 100 cantos of the poem. Complete illustration sets were also made by Sandro Botticelli (1481), Gustave Dore (1866 – 1867), Franz von Bayros (1921), and Tom Phillips (1985). Notable other artists moved by Dante’s original imagery include William Blake and Robert Rauschenberg. Less lofty forms of entertainment have also tackled the Divine Comedy. Most notable include a 1948 Merrie Melodies cartoon starring Donald Duck, Topolino, an Italian comic book featuring Disney characters, and a 1999 episode of the animated comedy Futurama.
Dalí considered this to be one of the most important projects in his career, and his perseverance over nine years to complete the 100 watercolors with no funding or publisher is a testament to this belief. This set of prints was generously donated by UT alumnus and businessman Gary Johnson. He felt it was important that a complete set remain together in a university collection, as so many suites of the Divine Comedy sets have been broken up and sold as individual images. -end- Gallery hours: Monday – Friday: 10 am - 5 pm, Sunday: 1 - 4 pm. For more information, call (585) 395-2805. Parking at Tower Fine Arts Center: Weekdays: Until 7 pm, parking permits are required. Permits cost $4 and can be obtained at the Raye H. Conrad Welcome Center. Evenings and Weekends: After 7 pm on weekdays, and throughout the weekend, parking is not regulated. Metered parking is available adjacent to Tower Fine Arts Center.
Images: 1: Fraud by Salvador Dalí (part of the Dante: Divine Comedy series) 2: The Avaricious by Salvador Dalí (part of the Dante: Divine Comedy series)
The College at Brockport, State University of New York
350 New Campus Drive * Brockport, New York 14420-2931
(585) 395-2754 * FAX (585) 395-2723 * www.brockport.edu