According to Salvador Dalí, it was a key work. "It's one of the most important in my career, " said the Catalan painter about the hundred watercolors prepared since 1957 on the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri's epic poem.
With his usual talent for propaganda and the self, Dalí announced the order he received from the Italian Government in 1957 to illustrate the book. The promoters of the initiative wanted to edit a limited number of illustrations, printed as wood blocks, during the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante (1965).
Dalí began to work immediately. He chose the topics for the one hundred illustrations that he had been commissioned, 33 for each of the three songs of the poem, Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and one more for the introduction, and publicly boasted that he had been chosen.
The 'national pride' of Italy, wounded
They weren't expecting such a contrary public opinion. The national pride of some sectors of Italian society was hurt by the appointment of a painter born outside Italy. Since the matter was starting to cause an uproar, the government decided to terminate the contract and cancel the order.
Confident that he'd find a client for his work, Dalí carried out the initial plans. For five years he worked on watercolors and woodblock plates, which were made by two craftsmen: 3,500, 35 per illustration, all carved by hand.
In 1964, a year before the 700 th anniversary of Dante, two French publishers issued a deluxe edition of the Divine Comedy Print Suite.
Dalí's woodcuts that Italy refused are touring ten great museums of the USA. Now they're on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, part of the state university in the city of Athens.