Dante’s literary classic as imagined and illustrated by Salvador Dali

Excerpts from Eleanor M. Hight “Dali and Dante: The Quest for Life’s Meaning”

In the early 1950s, shortly before the septecentennial of Dante’s birth, Dali was invited by the Italian government to produce a series of illustrations for a deluxe edition of The Divine Comedy to be published by La Libreria dello Stato in Rome. Between 1951 and 1960 Dali created a series of 101 watercolors for the book, which was unhappily never completely realized in its textural form.

The watercolors were exhibited at the Palazzo Pallavici in Rome. However, the reception of Dali’s project in Italy was extremely negative, since it did not seem appropriate for a Spanish (rather than Italian) painter, much less an irreverent Surrealist and sometime fascist sympathizer, to illustrate a commemorative edition of the greatest Italian poet’s masterpiece to be published by the State Press.

Although the project was dropped in Italy, Dali strove to see its completion. In the late 1950s Dali met the French publisher, Joseph Foret, who had issue Dali’s series of lithographs for Cervantes’s Don Quixote in 1957-1958. After viewing a group of the watercolors for The Divine Comedy at Dali’s studio, Foret enthusiastically set out to find support for the creation of The Divine Comedy.

He took it to the well known French editors and book publishers Les Heures Claires where he received equally enthusiastic support for the project. The directors of Les Heures Claires than immediately took full charge of the project; Mr. Riviere, the Financial Director, Mr. Blainon, the Marketing and Sales Director, and Mr. Estade, the Artistic Director. It was Mr. Estade’s responsibility to work directly with Dali and the engravers to create the works.

The engraver, Raymond Jacquet with his assistant, Mr. Tarrico, created the wood blocks necessary to transfer Dali’s watercolors to wood engravings, a medium chosen because of its ability to recreate subtle washes of color and delicate linear drawing.

In Dali’s case anywhere from 20 to as many as 37 separate blocks were needed to reproduce the watercolors. Although in the 1970s and 1980s Dali’s forays into printmaking were often embedded in controversy, due mostly to the undocumented and seemingly unlimited printing of some of his images, this series of prints was strictly controlled, and the approximately 3,000 woodblocks used to create them were destroyed after the printing. Furthermore, it is clear that Dali’s interests in such a project were literary, artistic and spiritual, rather than financial.

Exhibition details:

  • GALLERY NAME: Galerie Les Noms
  • GALLERY HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday 12pm- 7pm, Sunday 1pm-6pm
  • GALLERY ADDRESS: 47 Sai Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
  • EXHIBITION DATES: 17 October until 1 November, 2015

Private appointment:

To arrange a private appointment with Galerie Les Noms, email us at

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16/F Chao’s Building | 143-145 Bonham Strand | Sheung Wan | Hong Kong
T: +852 3620 3157 | F: +852 3753 1811

16/F Chao's Building  |  143-145 Bonham Strand  |  Sheung Wan  |  Hong Kong
T: +852 33620 3157  |  F: +852 3753 1811  |  |  Data Policy  

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