Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gustave Doré, from Pradise Lost

Gustave Doré, from Paradise Lost Series, 1866

Gustave Doré (1832-1883) was one of the most renowned printmakers in nineteenth century France.  As a boy he began carving in cement, before beginning to work as a caricaturist. Although he was also a successful painter and sculptor, Doré worked mainly in wood engraving. Most of his commissions were for series of illustrations, beginning with the work of Lord Byron followed by the English Bible.  Some of the other literature he illustrated includes, Don Quixote, Edgar Allen Poe, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Idylls of the King, and Divine Comedy.  In 1866 Doré was hired to do a series of illustrations for Milton's Paradise Lost.  The series comprises fifty plates, illustrating the breadth of the epic, each depicting specific lines from the poem.  This particular scene shows Fallen Angels blowing their trumpets to call their horde to a council after having been cast out and begun exploring their new dominion (although several sources incorrectly identify the image as the Angels of Heaven blowing their horns in victory).  The accompanying lines are:

Mean while the winged Haralds by command
Of Sovran power, with awful Ceremony
And Trumpets sound throughout the Host proclaim
A solemn Councel forthwith to be held [ 755 ]
At Pandæmonium, the high Capital
Of Satan and his Peers: thir summons call'd
From every Band and squared Regiment
By place or choice the worthiest; they anon
With hunderds and with thousands trooping came
Attended: (I.752-61)

I chose to use this particular scene because of the complexity of the image and the great skill it required.    Doré successfully communicates the size of the Host of Hell, innumerable as the army recedes into the far distance of the scene.  Nevertheless, the angels in the foreground, and in the middle ground blowing their trumpets, are quite well defined and differentiated.  Doré's skill is perhaps most evident in the frontmost Fallen Angel, who is rendered with great care and detail, as is his horse, whose coat and musculature are clearly visible.  The entire series is a masterwork, expressing the great spiritual and emotional depth of Milton's words, culminating in Adam and Eve's departure from Eden:

They looking back, all th' Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng'd and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon; 
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way. 

The entire series can be viewed here.

No comments:

Post a Comment