Into my hands has fallen (by chance at an Italian migrant festival) a compact volume of Gustave Doré’s famous illustrations (1861-1868) to the greatest classic of Italian literature, Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), which I venture to suggest may represent a new concept in illustrated books.
Editions of famous artists’ illustrations to works of famous writers are likely either to be large-format and difficult to handle, or to consist of the complete text interspersed with images at unpredictable intervals.
This edition does neither. It reproduces Doré’s 136 illustrations to the cantos (divisions) that make up the three parts of Dante’s epic poem (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso) in an uninterrupted sequence. There are 75 illustrations to the Inferno, 42 to the Purgatorio and 18 to the Paradiso, plus a portait of Dante. At the foot of each page is a brief summary in 4 to 5 lines of the text (canto, portion of canto or cantos) illustrated. The reader can thus follow the narrative while experiencing the sequence of images as a constant flow, and the volume also serves as a concise introduction to Dante’s masterpiece.
I have never seen an illustrated classic organised like this, and believe the concept deserves much wider diffusion!
Doré: La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri, ed. Gabriele Baldassari, Milan: Mondadori, 2013, paperback, 168 pp.