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The Printed Image: Gustave Doré and Paradise Lost

For the final 2023 installment of The Printed Image, I’m continuing our exploration of illustrated works by Gustave Doré within Falvey Library’s Special Collections, this time focusing on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, in a large format edition published in 1886 by Cassell, Petter, and Galpin.

In my last blog post, we ended with Doré’s depiction of Satan in the deepest circle of Hell, a giant brooding beast encased in ice. Doré’s work within Paradise Lost can be seen as a prequel of sorts, as Milton and Doré, separated by centuries, depict Satan’s rebellion and war with Heaven, his fall to Hell, and his temptation of Adam and Eve.

(Click on images for larger view.)

“Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool / His mighty stature.” Engraved by Charles Laplante.

“With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues his way, / And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.” Engraved by Adolphe Gusmand.

“Now storming fury rose, / And clamour, such as heard in heaven till now / Was never.” Engraved by A. Demarle.

While Milton’s poem features Adam and Eve as key characters, Doré’s illustrations are dominated by the angelic and the demonic, playing to his strengths for dynamic and dramatic imagery. These divine figures are visualized alone within heavenly or infernal realms, or within congregations that are in active conflict. One notable detail is that, with the exception of the wings, there is sometimes little difference between angel and demon, they share nearly the same face and figure. Even Satan doesn’t assume a more sinister appearance until later in the series of illustrations.

“Now Night her course began.” Engraved by Adolphe Ligny (detail).

Another quality that struck me within these illustrations is Doré’s combination of light and the horizon as a way to create an evocative setting. In several instances, Doré sets the scene in a landscape where an edge of light hovers just above the horizon, a liminal realm still waiting to be fully defined and created. While one may assume this is the light of dawn, it could easily be the fading light of dusk, a symbol for the fallen angels. While Doré’s compositional strengths show through here, credit must also be given to his engravers who brought his drawings to life via wood engraving, capturing the light and the way it reveals these unique worlds.

“They heard, and were abashed, and up they sprang.” Engraved by Laurent Hotelin.

“On the foughten field / Michael and his angels, prevalent, / Encamping, placed in guard their watches round.” Engraved by Adolphe Ligny.

“And seems a moving land; and at his gills / Draws in, and at his trunk spouts out, a sea.” Engraved by Hildibrand.

A final observation is that one may recognize certain compositional elements with other Doré illustrations. Doré made nearly 10,000 illustrations during his lifetime, so it only makes sense that his style would rhyme within his body of work. Compare the illustration for Satan’s approach to Earth (below left) with the haunting illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and Nine days they fell (below right) with Dante swoons after hearing Francesca from Dante’s Inferno.

“Towards the coast of Earth beneath, / Down from the ecliptic, speed with hoped success, / Throws his steep flight in many an aery wheel.” Engraved by Paul Jonnard.

“Nine days they fell.” Engraved by Adolphe Gusmand.

“In with the river sunk, and with it rose, Satan.” Engraved by Paul Jonnard (detail).

Paradise Lost may be viewed in-person in Falvey Library’s Rare Book Room by appointment. An edition with Doré illustrations from 1900 can be viewed at Internet Archive. And Gustave Doré’s biblical illustrations continue to be on display in the Divine Inspiration exhibit, on view on Falvey Library’s first floor.


Mike Sgier is a Distinctive Collections Coordinator at Falvey Library.


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The Printed Image: Gustave Doré and Dante’s Inferno

For this October installment of The Printed Image, we’re continuing the exploration of Gustave Doré’s illustrated works within Special Collections while also journeying to an underworld of doom and darkness.

Doré’s illustrations for Dante’s Inferno have defined this literary masterwork for modern audiences, to the point where readers may know the images without knowing the artist. Doré began work on the illustrations in 1855 and eventually self-published his own edition in 1861, after he was unable to find a publisher willing to take the financial risk. Doré’s own risk paid off, and the Inferno illustrations became a defining point in his career. [1] (The edition in Falvey’s Special Collections was published later by P.F. Collier in New York.)

Hell, as depicted by Doré and his engravers, is a desolate, desiccated realm; a smoldering, scorched earth with jagged, sharp rocks and barren landscapes, where lost souls swirl through the air as the damned are tormented alongside the monsters and gods of pagan days past. Surprisingly, we don’t see much in the way of fire depicted in these illustrations; the Inferno has already occurred, Hell is what remains.

Dante swoons after hearing Francesca’s story, engraved by Louis Paul Pierre Dumont

Arrival of Geryon, engraved by Adolphe François Pannemaker

Dante addresses Pope Nicholas III, engraved by Adolphe François Pannemaker

Virgil addresses the False Counselors, engraved by Héliodore Pisan

As mentioned briefly in my previous post, Doré’s prolific illustration output would not have been possible without the engravers who helped bring his drawings and designs into print. Within the Inferno illustrations, we can see that an engraver’s treatment of a Doré drawing could impact the tone and atmosphere of the final image, which we can see in the pair of following illustrations.

The image on the right, engraved by Héliodore Pisan, is composed with a density of lines and marks, many of them short cuts and stipples that create a gradual gradation from the dark landscape in the background to the bright flame within Farinata’s tomb.

This is contrasted with the illustration below, by an engraver only known as ‘Delduc,’ where the negative space dominates the image. We can see evidence of an engraver’s tools in its making, but it also closely resembles a pen-and-ink drawing, which is not an easy feat for a wood engraving. Pisan’s treatment creates an aura of dark menace while Delduc presents Hell’s torments with clarity and precision.

Virgil and Dante before Farinata degli Uberti, engraved by Héliodore Pisan

Sowers of Discord in the Ninth Circle, engraved by ‘Delduc’

No overview of Dante’s journey would be complete without remarking upon the deepest and darkest circle of Hell, where Satan resides. Doré presents Satan not reveling in his kingdom but brooding, trapped in ice, a creature of frustration and simmering grievances. How he came to be there, by means of Doré and a different author, will be featured in the next Printed Image installment.

Dante’s Inferno may be viewed in the Rare Book Room by appointment. To see more illustrations based on Dante’s works, please visit the online exhibit Dante Illustrated, which includes a reading from the Inferno by Father Peter Donohue, O.S.A. To learn more about Gustave Doré, watch this video on Peter Beard’s illustration Youtube channel. And visit Open Culture to view illustrations Doré created for Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso.

Satan, engraved by Héliodore Pisan

References
[1] “Gustave Doré’s Hauntingly Beautiful Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno.” The Marginalian, 2 Oct. 2015, www.themarginalian.org/2015/10/02/gustave-dore-dante-inferno/.


Mike Sgier is a Distinctive Collections Coordinator at Falvey Library.


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The Printed Image: Doré Fairy Tales

Over the course of the fall semester, I’ll be highlighting books from Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections featuring the work of French illustrator Gustave Doré. This is in conjunction with the new exhibit Divine Inspiration: Revealing the Sacred in Biblical Texts and Imagery, now on display on the first floor of Falvey Library. Doré created over 200 biblical illustrations for an edition of the Bible published in 1866, and a case in the exhibit is dedicated to his work, as well as being included on the exhibit poster.

For this first entry in the series, we’re focusing on illustrations Doré created prior to his biblical illustrations with Doré Fairy Tales (formally titled “Popular Fairy Tales”), a 32-page volume that collects four stories, published in 1888. An author is not credited for the text, but Doré’s illustrations most likely derived from illustrations he created for Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, around 1862.

Illustration for ‘Little Red Riding-Hood’

An artistic prodigy and enormously prolific, Doré earned acclaim for his book and newspaper illustrations while striving for acceptance in the traditional French art establishment. The majority of his illustrations were produced through wood engraving, a process where an image is carved into a block of wood by carving away the negative space of the image. Ink can then be rolled onto the carved surface and subsequently printed, though often metals plates were created from the blocks by means of electrotyping or stereotyping, allowing the images to be used in industrial printing, and for wider dissemination of the illustrations [1].

Doré was able to utilize the engraving medium to add a staggering level of detail to his illustrations, with expressive costuming, characters and locales. The illustrations have a strong grounding in realistic environments, but still leave room for the strange and fantastic, as seen in the illustrations for The Seven-League Boots. But these qualities are also due to the engravers who collaborated with Doré, as they were the ones who carved the woodblocks based on Doré’s drawings, thus bringing his visions to life. Doré often drew directly onto the woodblocks prior to carving, so not much evidence remains of his preparatory drawings prior to an engravers’ tools [1].

Illustration for ‘The Seven-League Boots’

Illustration for ‘Blue-Beard’

Illustration for ‘The Seven-League Boots’

Engraver’s signature for ‘Blue-Beard’

In many cases, the engraver’s signature would be included on the illustrations along with Doré’s, as can be seen in the bottom left corner of a Blue-Beard illustration. However, for many of the illustrations in this particular edition, Doré’s signature is the only one that is prominent. This could be due to the way the illustrations were formatted for this particular edition, or how the printing plates were disseminated to the publisher.

One final aspect I’ll note is the paper used for this edition. The paper has a significant texture or “tooth” to it that is detectable when reading, and brings a unique character to the illustrations. But it also creates an uneven surface for the ink to rest upon, which may account for spots where it appears the ink has been rubbed away. This is a reminder that every variable in printing will impact a book and its contents, and will be a factor in its preservation.

Detail for illustration from ‘Blue-Beard’

Doré Fairy Tales may be viewed in Falvey Library’s Rare Book Room by appointment. Internet Archive includes a number of editions with Doré fairy tale illustrations, and you can learn more about the importance of engraving to Doré’s process by visiting The History of Art.

References
[1] Schaefer, Sarah C., ‘The Good News’, Gustave Doré and the Modern Biblical Imagination (New York, 2021; online edn, Oxford Academic, 18 Nov. 2021), https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190075811.003.0003

 


Mike Sgier is a Distinctive Collections Coordinator at Falvey Library.


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Last Modified: September 20, 2023

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