One of my favourite things to moan about is how I live in utter poverty, can’t afford to eat, have holes in my shoes, etc etc. All of these laments are valid and true (although I did finally get round to buying a new pair of boots), but I always feel terrible when people give me sympathy. It’s not that I don’t want sympathy; of course I do. Why else would I moan? But the thing that wracks me with guilt is the fact that, no matter how poor I am, no matter how little food is in my fridge, I will ALWAYS find the money to buy two necessary items: mascara and books.
Last Christmas I was in pretty much the same position as I’m no doubt going to be in this Christmas (i.e. left my Christmas shopping until the day before Christmas Eve and have no money). And so when I ventured out into those cold, cruel, December streets to do my Christmas shopping, you’d think that I’d just get it done ASAP, minimal effort, minimal cost, and rush home. Not so. Instead I did what I always do when I go present shopping: head to a bookshop.
A leather-bound, gilt-edged, weepingly beautiful version of the Divine Comedy, translated by Longfellow and illustrated by Gustave Doré. I couldn’t NOT buy it, could I? No, I couldn’t. So I did buy it. And I love it with all my medieval heart.
I love Doré’s Dante work. He is a genius. I don’t know a great deal about art, so I don’t think I’ll even try and pretend like I know what movement these pictures belong to, or even what medium was used to draw them. All I know is that my eyes dance with joy when they look at them. I especially like how he manages to capture the doom and gloom of the poem, yet there’s definitely still an element of optimism. Look at this one, for example. It accompanies the last canto of Paradise (not Purgatory…oops), where Dante leaves the afterlife and returns back to his normal life. I suppose you’d expect it to be a positive picture because he’s in heaven with his one true love and all, but look how around the edges of all that light, there’s a definite hint of all the dangers and tribulations he’s had to pass through to reach this point. And the silouettes of Dante and Bea are just gorgeous. It’s like a holiday snap on the beach, where they’re watching the sunset or something, which someone has just taken from the back of them. These are simple art explanations, admittedly, but ultimately more interesting than critical jargon.
To sum up, I like this picture because it looks like a sunset on a beach. And that, my friends, is why I’m doing a PhD.