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The Salvador Dali print series Divine Comedy originates in plans by the Italian government to honor the 700th birthday of the Italian poet Dante Alighiere. But when the project became public in 1954, an outcry went through the Italian nation. Honoring the greatest Italian poet with art prints out of the hands of a Spaniard? Could not be, should not be and would not be!
First Publication: September 2002
Latest Update: April 2013
For copyright reasons we cannot show you any pictures of Dali art works on this web site. That's a pity. But you find a rather popular, easy to read biography on this page and on a continuation page. And to make this page look less sad, we show here a surrealistic painting by emerging Chinese artist Liu Zhi. You can see 14 more of his surreal art works on our website dedicated to contemporary Chinese art.
Salvador Dali had worked on watercolors for the planned commemorative print series since 1951. No doubt that another publisher would jump in and be happy to fill the gap left by the Italian government.
Dante Alighieri was a great poet and master of Italian literature. His importance for literature made him a cultural world heritage. Dante's major work La Commedia Divina is a milestone in the history of European literature. It was the first literature work not written in Latin, as it was the customs during the dark Middle Ages. Dante rather used a kind of common Italian, spoken in the Tuscany.
The citizens of Florence, the provincial capital of the Tuscany, are very proud of their local dialect and regard it as the source of modern Italian - due to Dante's popularity.
In The Divine Comedy Dante describes an imaginary tour to hell ( Inferno ), purgatory ( Purgatorio ) and finally to paradise ( Paradiso ) in 99 verses ( cantos ). On his journey he is accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil. In the purgatory, he meets Beatrice, who takes him by the hand and - you guess it it - leads him to paradise.
Beatrice did actually exist in Dante's life. She was the daughter of a Florentine noble family. He adored her and made her immortal in many of his literary works.
This love story reminds of the passion that Dali had for his wife, lover, muse and model Gala. On some of Dali's designs for the 33 prints of paradise, the face and contours of Gala are clearly to be recognized. Beatrice, by the way, died at a young age and Dante married a woman named Gemma Donati from a famous Florentine family.
Dante Alighieri called his literary work Commedia because it has a happy ending. The title Divine Comedy was created much later after Dante's death in Ravenna. It remained a source of inspiration for painters, writers and musicians throughout the centuries.
Dante Alighieri's career in Florence had a bad ending. He got entangled in political rivalries of two Florentine families fighting for power. He was forced to seek exile in Verona, a Northern Italian province and died without ever having seen Florence again.
The series consists of 100 prints - one print for each canto plus one cover print. The prints were produced as wood engravings in the years 1959 to 1963 in Paris, commissioned by Joseph Foret.
Wood engraving is a relief printmaking technique and is similar to woodcuts. The raised parts of the block are inked and printed. Everything that shall not be printed has to be cut away. For wood engraving blocks, the end grain of a hard wood is used.
Wood engraving allows to make finer lines than woodcuts and more impressions from the same block. The German painter and printmaker Albrecht D�rer used this technique. To produce multi-color prints, several blocks - one for each color - have to be made. For the series of the Divine Comedy 3,500 blocks were carved by two professional carvers.
For some art aficionados the prints therefore are no originals. In the sense of a strict definition the plate of an original print has to be made by the artist himself and the printing process must at least be closely supervised by the artist.
It is time to put illusions aside. If this definition would be honestly applied, you can sort out not only all Japanese ukiyo-e, but 99% of all old master prints and 90% of all classical modern masters. Good-bye to all graphic works by Dali, Picasso or Chagall to name only a few!
The Dali wood engravings were published in several editions. There was a deluxe edition of 33 books by Joseph Foret in satin-covered boxes. The deluxe editions had many of the original watercolors included.
A popular edition was published by Jean Estrade from Les Heures Claires in an edition of 4,765 books. In 1964 another edition was published in Florence (but printed in Paris) by Arti e Scienze Salani. This edition had a size of 3,188. In 1974 a German edition was published in a size of 1,000 or less by Naffouj Gallery in Landstuhl. According to Albert Field, the authority on Dali prints>, it is not clear whether it is in addition to the French edition or included in the 4,765 regular French copies.
Albert Field lists a number of prints that are not acceptable. It would go beyond the scope of this article, to cover these listings in detail. As pointed out in an earlier article about the graphic works of Salvador Dali on this web site, the artist is to a large degree responsible himself for a huge mess. Dali lived in his own world and an orderly documentation at life time of art works created or authorized by him, was the least of his concerns.
At least the chaos and confusion about Dali prints has one advantage. Prices suffered heavily under the reports of fake Dali prints. And therefore original Dali art prints can be purchased for rather modest prices.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
The information about editions and fakes was taken from the book The Official catalog of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dali by Albert Field.
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Thank you! - Dieter and Yorie