Thursday, May 20, 2010

Inferno 29 - Mohammed

Title: Inferno 29 - Mohammed

Artist: Salvador Dali

Medium: Block print

Size: 33 x 26 cm

Date: 1960

Location: Book illustration

Dante Alighieri (c.1265, Florence – September 14, 1321, Ravenna), commonly known as Dante, was an Italian poet of the Middle Ages. In Italy he is known as il Sommo Poeta (the Supreme Poet) or just il Poeta. His Divine Comedy, originally called Commedia by the author and later nicknamed Divina by Boccaccio, is often considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. Written between 1308 and Dante’s death in 1321, the poem's imaginative and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church. Further, it helped establish the Tuscan dialect as the Italian standard.

The encounter with Mohammed takes place in the eight circle of Hell, the circle of fraud. Mohammed is punished in the ninth ditch of this circle, among the sowers of religious, political and familial discord who are 'split', or mutilated, by a devil's sword. As Mohammed explains to Dante, the devil is standing somewhere in the background at a fixed point of the circular ditch, thrusting with his sword at the damned who have to pass in front of him. The wounds which they receive heal while the damned proceed on their way, only to be stricken again when the damned have to face the devil again. Mohammed explains the general arrangement of the punishment of the place, and suggests also a specific sense of this punishment, by associating a bodily 'splitting' with the 'splitting' of community. Unlike other sinners in this canto, Mohammed does not make any remarks about his earlier life and does not relate any specific deed for which he is punished. It has caused some consternation that Dante places Mohammed at this specific place in Hell, and not in the sixth circle with the heretics and heresiarchs in their red-hot glowing tombs. But some commentators have pointed out that this punishment in a place deeper in hell implies a more severe condemnation. And this more severe condemnation does not imply an exculpation from the less grave sin of heresy, because according to the general rule each soul is punished at the place of his (or her) gravest sin.

To celebrate Dante’s 700th birthday, Salvador Dali was commissioned by the Italian government in 1951 to create a set of illustrations for the Divine Comedy. 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. Regardless, Dali produced a masterpiece of his own, and the set of watercolors with their range of artistic styles demonstrates that Dali was one of the greatest artists of the century. The series consists of 100 illustrations - one print for each canto plus one cover image, and were produced as engravings in the years 1959 to 1963 in Paris, commissioned by Joseph Foret. Woodcut experts Raymond Jacquet and Jean Taricco worked for many years under Dali’s guidance to transfer his visions to the medium. Several blocks (frequently referred to as “wood” blocks, although they were actually a resin-based matrix) - one for each color – had to be made for each image, and more than 3,000 blocks were necessary to complete the whole engraving process.

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