Columbia Library columns (v.15(1965Nov-1966May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.15,no.1(1965:Nov): Page 17  

Dante Through Three Artists'Eyes



ANTE'S Divine Comedy is dear to artists. For over 600
years this great poem has inspired them to transcribe its
world of imagery—a sculptural world of impassioned
human gestures and clashing souls—into graphic and pictorial
vernaculars of their time. To artists, Dante represents the poet of
the soul of mankind, and the visual interpretation of mankind's
soul has been the purpose and function of the artist ever since he
first disco\'ered the outline thousands of years ago, then invented
manual wa\s to make it "capture" permanently on a surface the
symbols of the soul. Out of that discovery and of those inventions,
"the Poets," it has been said, "made all the words."

The Divine Comedy—the Inferjzo, particularly—has been in¬
terpreted in various and diverse graphic and pictorial languages
by many artists, including Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Sig-
norelli, William Blake, and, in our time, Salvador Dali and our
American contemporaries Rico LeBrun and Robert Rauschen-
berg. These artists' interpretations of the Divine Comedy are
commonly spoken of as illustrations, but they are more than visual
representation of word logic; they are graphic and pictorial
narrations which for aesthetic enjoyment should be read in their
own syntactical form without the accompaniment of literary text.

Illustration—"the art of representing graphically or pictorially
some idea w hich has been expressed in words"—is as old as human
language itself. Unfortunately, its potency as an art was weakened
when modern culture applied it to literature, specifically to story

I remember my school days, 50 years ago, when we did not
need a synthetic stimulus in the form of drawn or painted pata-
phernalia to help us enjoy reading literature. Students were no
more imaginative then than thev are today, the teaching of read-

  v.15,no.1(1965:Nov): Page 17