William Blake Illustrates Dante’s Divine Comedy (1827)

Just over a year ago, we fea­tured John Mil­ton’s Par­adise Lost as illus­trat­ed by William Blake, the 18th- and 19th-cen­tu­ry Eng­lish poet, painter, and print­mak­er who made uncom­mon­ly full use of his already rare com­bi­na­tion of once-a-gen­er­a­tion lit­er­ary and visu­al apti­tude. Blake may have had an obses­sion with Par­adise Lost, as Josh Jones point­ed out in that post, but it hard­ly kept him from illus­trat­ing oth­er texts. Today we have his artis­tic accom­pa­ni­ment to that text that has gone under the hands of Sal­vador DalíGus­tave DoréAlber­to Mar­ti­niSan­dro Bot­ti­cel­li, and Mœbius, to name a few: Dante Alighieri’s Divine Com­e­dy

Blake nev­er com­plet­ed the full set of engrav­ings com­mis­sioned, but only because death itself cut the project short. Still, he man­aged to com­plete sev­er­al water­col­ors and a hand­ful of engrav­ing proofs, all of which have drawn praise not just for the way they evoke the dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments of the Infer­no, Pur­ga­to­rio, and Par­adiso, but for how they cast a some­times crit­i­cal eye on the the­o­log­i­cal and moral sen­si­bil­i­ties of Dan­te’s orig­i­nal work.

(“Every thing in Dantes Come­dia shews That for Tyran­ni­cal Pur­pos­es he has made This World the Foun­da­tion of All & the God­dess Nature & not the Holy Ghost,” Blake once wrote to him­self in a piece of mar­gin­a­lia often cit­ed by schol­ars of this par­tic­u­lar project.)

Yet Blake and Dante had com­mon ground. “Blake was drawn to the project because, despite the five cen­turies that sep­a­rat­ed them, he res­onat­ed with Dante’s con­tempt for mate­ri­al­ism and the way pow­er warps moral­i­ty — the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rep­re­sent these ideas pic­to­ri­al­ly no doubt sang to him,” writes Maria Popo­va at Brain Pick­ings, who tells more of the sto­ry sur­round­ing Blake’s Divine Com­e­dy. He stopped only when just about to step off this mor­tal coil, a moment in which his­to­ry has remem­bered him say­ing to his wife, “Keep just as you are — I will draw your por­trait — for you have ever been an angel to me.” That por­trait did­n’t sur­vive, but what he com­plet­ed of his Dante illus­tra­tions did, grant­i­ng them the sta­tus of William Blake’s final work — and, giv­en the post-life nature of its sub­ject mat­ter, a suit­able sta­tus indeed.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Free Course on Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

William Blake’s Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Illus­tra­tions of John Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Mœbius Illus­trates Dante’s Par­adiso

Botticelli’s 92 Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Alber­to Martini’s Haunt­ing Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy (1901–1944)

Sal­vador Dalí’s 100 Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s The Divine Com­e­dy

Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy Illus­trat­ed in a Remark­able Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­script (c. 1450)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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