Letter from Guatemala, by Guy Tiphane

Canto 19: The Simoniacs: 
“From every mouth a sinner's leg stuck out as far as the calf”

You may have read Dante's Divine Comedy in the context of a college class, probably translated from its original in thirteenth century Florentine Italian. Most memorable from it are the scenes of the Inferno where various characters live their afterlife in – to say the least – awkward and unreal situations.

didn't know Salvador Dali had painted a series of a hundred watercolours corresponding to each scene of Dante's masterwork, and that those had been reproduced in woodblock prints. To mark the 700th anniversary of the Divine Comedy, the Italian government commissioned Dali to create the works, but withdrew its request after politicians raised objections to Dali's citizenship. In my humble opinion, they should have awarded the painter honourary Italian citizenship. The Pope himself came to the rescue of the artwork and requested that a book be printed with the illustrations. It took several years to transfer the images to about 3,500 woodblocks (one for each colour needed in each print), and then print books from them. The French publisher Les Heures Claires printed a collection in elegant boxes which you can find on the market these days for about $7,000. Individual prints can also be found, as well as catalogues from past exhibitions.

I found them at an exhibition sponsored by the Spanish government here in Antigua, Guatemala.  Going from one print to the next, I wished I could hear the text, because Dali's surrealism, with its characteristic elongated shapes, adds a new dimension. I wonder how Dante would react to seeing them. What did he have in mind when he wrote? And here am I, in the twenty-first century, wishing I could listen to a recorded reading of the text playing in my ear as I admire the images.

I hope the exhibition will travel the world, so maybe you will see it too. And, of course, you could buy the prints.

La Divina Comedia de Dalí: 100 xilografías en madera, at CFCE Antigua – Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española en la Antigua Guatemala, October-November 2012.  

© Guy Tiphane 2012

Guy Tiphane grew up in Laval and obtained an M.Sc. In Computer Science from Université de Montréal. He joined the founding team of Logitech, first in Switzerland, then in California, to write innovative software and to include users in the design of software and hardware. He obtained an M.A. in English Literature from Notre Dame de Namur University (Belmont, CA), winning the thesis award for his collection of short stories, Heating up the Fog. He lives in Berkeley.



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