Purgatorio, by Dante Alighieri with Illustrations by Salvador Dali, Folio Society

{Ed Note:  This is another great review from LibraryThing user ParadigmTree.}

The Folio Society’s edition of Dante Alighieri‘s Purgatorio, illustrated by Salvador Dali, was one of those wonderful finds that reconfirmed my decision to join Folio Society.  I first encountered Dali’s illustrations for the Divine Comedy in a small gallery in Barcelona, along with other illustration work for Don Quixote and Casanova.  While I knew that Dali was a prolific artist and worked in a variety of media, up until that point I had been unaware of his many book illustration commissions.  After seeing the prints in Barcelona, I started looking for where I could get a copy of the Dali illustrated Divine Comedy, but without much luck.  The original books were published as a limited edition collector’s sets.  Fine copies are very expensive, and many copies in poorer conditions have been dismantled by art dealers to sell the prints separately.  Ironically, while one could easily purchase a book about Salvador Dali and his work, it seemed that it was more difficult to get a copy of a book actually illustrated by Dali.  So, when I encountered Folio Society’s edition of Purgatorio a few years later, I was very surprised and pleased.

Purgatorio is part of Divine Comedy, an epic poem by Dante which is generally considered the greatest work of Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature.  Dante, an Italian poet, philosopher and political thinker, composed this work over many years, from 1308 until his death in 1321.  The Divine Comedy tells of Dante’s travels through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso).  Dante is guided through Hell and Purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil, and through Heaven by his love, Beatrice. Along his journey he witnesses the torments of hell, the purges of purgatory and the splendor of heaven.

The rich imagery of the Divine Comedy has been fertile ground for artistic inspiration over the poem’s 700 year history.  This might explain why FS published the Divine Comedy as three separate books, each with different illustrators (besides Dali’s Purgatorio, Inferno with illustrations by William Blake and Paradiso by Giovanni di Paolo).  While I can appreciate FS’s decision to showcase a range of styles, I personally find it a bit disappointing that I won’t be able to get matching Inferno and Paradiso editions with Dali’s illustrations. That being said, Purgatorio stands well on its own and features some of Dali’s more interesting work for the Divine Comedy.

Dali initially became involved in this project through a commission by the Italian government in 1951 to celebrate the seven hundredth anniversary of Dante’s birth. However, prior to completion, the Italian government backed away from the project due to controversy from Dali’s political leanings (he was seen as sympathetic to fascism), as well as unhappiness that the commission to illustrate one of Italy’s greatest works had gone to a Spaniard. Dali eventually completed 100 paintings and, in 1959, collaborated with publisher Joseph Foret to produce a high end limited edition of 33, featuring woodcut prints made from his original water colours.  Subsequent to this, a few other limited editions were published; notably an edition in French by Les Heures Claires of 1465 copies.

Folio Society’s edition of Purgatorio features 33 illustrations by Dali – one for each canto. They vary widely in composition, mood, and style.  Some are watery, even blurry, while others appear frantic and frenzied.  Still others reference elements from some of Dali’s other well known works.  The image reproduction is excellent.  This edition uses the translation by Henry Francis Cary, which dates from 1814.  Cary’s translation is antiquated and very poetic. I would judge it as less flowing than more modern translations, but it is still understandable and readable.  Cary’s notes on his translation are also included at the end of the book.

This edition also features two introductions; one by George Melly on Dali and Surrealism and the other by Michael Prodger on Dali’s Dante illustrations. Both introductions are quite interesting, providing insight into Dali’s opportunistic nature and mercantile mind. The binding is refined, if a bit unassuming, being a blueish-green quarter bound leather with light blue moire silk sides. It is also noteworthy that printing for this edition was done by Les Heures Claire, the same publisher who printed had previously published a limited edition of this work. Overall I am very pleased by this edition and feel that Folio has done an excellent job.

About this Edition

  • Translation by Henry Francis Cary
  • Introductions by George Melly and Michael Prodger
  • Binding: Quarter-bound in leather with moire silk sides by Hunter & Foulis, Haddington.
  • Typeset in Monotype Walbaum.
  • Printed on Gardapatt Kiara paper by Les Heures Claires, Paris
  • 33 illustrations by Salvador Dali
  • Size: 13″ × 9″, 171 pages
  • Presented in a slipcase with an illustration by Dali


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Purgatorio, Folio Society, Book in Slipcase
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Book in Slipcase, Side View
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Slipcase Side View
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Book Next to Slipcase
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Book Cover and Spine
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Frontispiece and Title Page
Purgatorio, Folio Society, Copyright, Colophon, Contents
Purgatorio, Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
Purgatorio, Second Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
Purgatorio, Third Sample Pages with Text and Illustration

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