New reads

The mad­dest jour­ney in world lit­er­a­ture, as seen through the eyes of a dy­ing ob­ses­sive and a great artist, is given new ex­po­sure in this hand­some tome

ImagineFX - - In Depth Lighting The Face - Au­thors Se­bas­tian Schütze and Maria An­toni­etta Ter­zoli Pub­lisher Taschen Web

Wil­liam Blake: The Draw­ings for Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy; Velázquez: The Com­plete Works; The Squick­er­wonkers.

Taschen of­ten pro­duces art books so huge, you need a don­key to get them home. Luck­ily this re­pro­duc­tion of the sketch­books of English poly­math Wil­liam Blake won’t in­voke her­nias. It has just the right heft and tex­ture to recre­ate the sen­sa­tion of hav­ing found the ma­te­ri­als next to Blake’s bed­side, where they were when he died in 1827.

This is a cel­e­bra­tion of the life’s ob­ses­sion of two men, and Se­bas­tian Schütze’s open­ing es­say on The Di­vine Com­edy is a per­fectly pitched in­tro­duc­tion to the art­work that fol­lows. How­ever, Dante’s epic poem isn't ac­tu­ally part of the deal, mak­ing this an ac­com­pa­ni­ment to your cho­sen trans­la­tion, rather than what you could call the com­plete pack­age. Nonethe­less, any­one un­fa­mil­iar with Dante’s text will surely know many of its core fea­tures, so in­flu­en­tial has the work been on vi­sions of the af­ter­life.

What this pub­li­ca­tion is, how­ever, is an in­spi­ra­tion to any­body with the slight­est de­sire to pick up a pen, pen­cil, or any drawing uten­sil, and leave their artis­tic mark. This is due to the at­tain­able or­di­nar­i­ness ev­i­dent on ev­ery page, the sheer scrap­pi­ness that leaves the read­ing artist con­fi­dent they can cre­ate some­thing bet­ter. Not that each drawing – im­mac­u­lately recre­ated on tex­tured pa­per, of­ten on ex­panded fold-out pages – is any­thing less than en­gross­ing; but some­how this in­ti­mate ar­range­ment puts you in Blake’s shoes (or rather, his bed) and leaves you feel­ing em­pow­ered, con­vinced that there’s no im­pos­si­ble mys­tery to artis­tic great­ness – Blake shows that it’s largely ef­fort and imag­i­na­tion that counts.

Dante’s jour­ney through Hell, Pur­ga­tory and Par­adise comes from a civil­i­sa­tion to­tally alien to us: it’s a tale writ­ten as a di­rect ex­trap­o­la­tion of solid be­lief and heart­felt moral­ity that now seems so naïve as to be im­pos­si­ble to take se­ri­ously. It’s the orig­i­nal bad trip, the in­spi­ra­tion for Alice in Won­der­land or Yel­low Sub­ma­rine, ex­cept less be­liev­able and less rel­e­vant to real life than those trippy ad­ven­tures. But even the most amused athe­ist has to thank Dante for inspiring so many great artists, and this col­lec­tion – com­pris­ing not just the com­plete Blake sketches, but the cream of Dante il­lus­tra­tions – is well worth the jour­ney. Maybe it's not to die for, though.

Dante stands be­fore the en­trance to Hell, in one of over 100 large (34x24cm) images from the book.

Blake’s de­pic­tion of The Cir­cle of the Lust­ful, part of Hell’s up­per tiers.

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