I love Gustave Doré. So, so much. I’ve mentioned him a few times on the blog before, but I think he deserves an entire post to himself. He’s a French engraver from the 19th century, and he was apparently just the embodiment of artistic talent made flesh. He got started in art in the following way.
At the age of 15, his father brought him to Paris, where he saw an illustrated edition of the labors of Hercules, stories which he knew very well. He found the illustrations in the book to be inferior, and so the next day he feigned sickness, in order that he might be left alone at home. When his father and brother left, young Gustave drew up six pictures in two and a half hours.
He brought these pictures to the director of the Journal pour Rire, who recognized the great talent present, and asked the boy to draw another sample for him in order to verify the provenance of the drawings. Gustave’s talent being proved, he was granted a three year contract, during which time he would also attend school at the Lycée Charlemagne, an education that went unfinished, since it became clear that Gustave knew more than his teachers about art. At that time, his salary was doubled and he was allowed to focus on his art full-time.
Isn’t that amazing? And his work is just gorgeous, too. The amount of detail that goes into them is insane. If you ever find an image of them, try to find the best resolution you can, because otherwise you’re likely to miss something important. He did illustrations for a number of great works of literature, for which we’re rather fortunate, so let’s share some of them.
I first came across Gustave Doré’s illustrations while looking up stuff related to Don Quixote, one of my favorite novels. Every year, the university book store has a huge poster sale, and my freshman year I came across a poster of Don Quixote in his library, which, at that very moment, was the wallpaper of my computer.
Look at that level of detail! My absolute favorite thing about this picture is the two knights jousting on mice at the bottom. This is probably the best ever depiction of reading, though, don’t you think? I just adore the way the various beings from his imagination are flooding around him. I’ll probably get a framed version for myself soon.
The books on the floor are labeled Amadis and Tirant, for Amadis de Gaul and Tirant lo Blanc, two famous knights-errant. I’ve only read Tirant lo Blanc, but it’s pretty awesome. Be warned that there’s no real symbolism or deeper meaning. Tirant just does cool stuff, kills people, and converts Saracens. That’s it. It’s a really great epic, though, plus there’s some comedy, as well. I really love this picture for showing us what Don Quixote sees, though.
Another Don Quixote engraving, this one showing him setting out on his adventure, and again, a glimpse into his imagination. I prefer the library engraving, though.
After that, I next came across his illustrations while reading Baron Munchausen, which is hilarious. It’s just a delight to read, full of whimsy and wonder and tall-tales. It’d make good bedtime stories for my future child someday, I think. If you’ve seen the movie, you might have a general idea of what to expect. The stories are just so fantastic, though! Give it a chance if you ever see it.
A friend of mine, after I told her about Gustave Doré, found this engraving he did for Little Red Riding Hood that she liked, and I have to agree, I like it, too. Doesn’t Red have a great facial expression?
After that, I found an edition of Dante’s Inferno that had Gustave Doré’s engravings, and I got it as a gift for my friend H. He did illustrations for the entire Divine Comedy, and they’re awesome. I admit, I found the verse a bit difficult to get through last time I gave it a try. I really ought to attempt to re-read it nowadays, especially with my greater interest in Florence since high school. It’s just such a classic, and so many of its ideas about hell and the afterlife have stayed with us.
Dante himself is an awesome figure all on his own. He’s pretty much the first person who realized that we weren’t speaking Latin anymore, but had instead began speaking the ancestors of Spanish, Italian, French, &c. For that alone, I find him fascinating and incredible.
This is, without a doubt, what I would expect heaven to look like, were I a Christian. It’s just perfect.
He also did a series of engravings for the Bible, which were incredibly popular in England and America. Some of my favorites are below.
I especially love this one, because most people try to downplay the fact that God sent bears to kill kids, but Gustave Doré was like, “No, kids deserve to get eaten by bears. I’m going to have Elisha not giving a fuck in the background, just to emphasize that.” Look at Elisha! He is one hundred and ten percent on board with this. He looks scarier than the bears.
Isn’t Gustave Doré magnificent? I hope I’ve encouraged some of you to look up some more of his illustrations. They really are stunning!