Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the greatest illustrator of 19th-century France and the leading book illustrator of his day. His startling conceptions and brooding surreal imagery lent overwhelming power to his often definitive illustrations of the classics: The Divine Comedy, Gargantua, and Pantagruel, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the Bible, among others. In 1879, having produced over 90 illustrated books, he published the last major work of his illustrious career: 618 illustrations for Ludovico Ariosto’s magnificent epic poem, Orlando Furioso. Little known today, the work contains some of Doré’s finest illustrations.
Ariosto’s poem combines medieval legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne in a long, complex narrative involving scores of characters, numerous interweaving subplots, and many interpolated tales. The conflict of Christian versus Moor provides the epic background of the work.
The present volume contains 208 of Doré’s finest illustrations for the poem, painstakingly reproduced from a beautifully printed 19th-century German edition. Included are all 81 full-page plates, the large frontispiece, many other illustrations that fill an entire Dover page, and a generous sampling of smaller, chiefly zinc-engraved plates. The latter consist of many lively and felicitous drawings reproduced directly from Doré’s originals without the intermediate service of his team of wood engravers.
Ariosto’s extended saga provided an almost endless succession of characters, creatures, and events upon which Doré lavished the skill and experience of a lifetime. The illustrations range from brilliant quick sketches to highly finished and shaded studies, many of which convey and incomparable feeling of metaphysical gloom. Desolate landscapes, ghostly castles, and titanic battles furnish darkly romantic settings in which tiny human figures often appear overwhelmed — helpless pawns of destiny. Against this stark backdrop, a panorama of jousting knights, damsels in distress, heroic deeds, romantic interludes, and mystical events comes to life under Doré’s exuberant pen style. His haunting interpretations, suffused with a shadowy mysticism, seem the perfect visual expression of Ariosto’s monumental historico mythological tableau.
For this edition, Stanley Appelbaum has selected illustrations and provided captions describing the scene depicted, with appropriate canto and stanza numbers. He has also provided an informative introduction and plot summary. Anyone interested in the special artistic magic that results from the fusion of great art and great literature will want to add this inexpensive reprint of one of Doré’s finest achievements to their bookshelves.