William Blake Dantes Divine Comedy
A Video Book Review© by VanGerven|VanRijnberk about Taschen XL edition of William Blake Dante’s Divine Comedy. It contains all the 102 illustrations William Blake made for Dante’s most loved poem. Dante was an Italian, Florence born, medieval poet. His trilogy poem “Divine Comedy” is a masterpiece of world literature that captivated many medieval readers. Each successive era remains spellbound too by Dante’s sublime portraits of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante’s Divine Comedy was admired for its imagination and inventions, although its many scenes of horror and fantasy were also thought shocking and extravagant.
In the early 19th century, one of England’s great romantic poets paid tribute to Dante’s work. William Blake (1757 – 1827) was gifted at both poetry and painting. William Blake illustrated Dante’s poem Divine Comedy with pencil, pen, ink and watercolour on paper. John Linnell, the chief patron of William Blake during the final years before his death, commissioned the illustrations. Linnell paid William Blake one pound per month. It is generally thought that William Blake, who lived in poverty all his life, began work on the 102 drawings in the third quarter of 1824. The works were left at Blake’s death in 1827 in various stages of completion, ranging from pencil sketches to highly finished watercolours.
In these utterly unique, and distinctive William Blake style illustrations, the artist paid close attention to the details of Dante’s poem. Yet, while faithful to the text, Blake also brings his own perspective to bear on some of Dante’s central themes, including sin, guilt, punishment, revenge, and salvation. In several designs, Blake’s pictorial imagery, particularly when associated with similar motifs in his illuminated books and their iconography, indicates a critical attitude towards Dante. Like Dante’s sweeping poem, Blake’s drawings and watercolours range from scenes of infernal suffering to celestial light, from horrifying human disfigurement to the perfection of physical form.
Dante called his poem a comedy. In classic terminology, a comedy is a work that begins in misery or deep confusion and ends in elation or happiness. Traditionally, a comedy is not something one would laugh about, but an ascension from a low state of confusion to one where all people are combined for the greatest happiness. “Divine” was added by a sixteenth-century editor and publisher and has been retained ever since.
“This book from Tashen – this monstrous, divine in itself. This outrageous most beautiful book is more about Blake than it is about Dante, and yet, for all its epic classicalism, Divine Comedy without Blake is only half the book it should be. There are 324 cloth bound pages with 14 fold out spreads. This book is so much more than an ‘art book’ – it’s an experience.”
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