Our recent post about Rembrandt’s Biblical art brought to mind another of my favorite artists, Gustav Doré. Doré is famous for his detailed illustrations and woodcuts based on scenes from literature, including a magnificent set of illustrations for The Divine Comedy and a series of Biblical scenes.
One of my favorite Biblical pieces by Doré is “The Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.” It depicts Exodus 19:16: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” Think about this text as you look at the image, and try to imagine the fear the Israelites must have felt at this raw display of God’s power:
This image of Amos shows the prophet bowed over, weakened by the burden of his calling. It’s one of the most humanizing portrayals of a prophet I’ve come across:
Another illustration, “Jesus Walking on the Water,” shows water roiling as Christ calmly walks towards the boat pitching in the Sea of Gethsesame. In John 6:20, Jesus calls out to his disciples, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Imagine the terror and awe the disciples must have felt watching a figure approach their boat from across the water.
Each of Doré’s illustrations presents a snapshot of a unique piece of the grand Biblical narrative, making the people and objects described in the text seem less abstract. He produced hundreds of images based on Bible stories. All of them are available online; Catholic-Resources.org has a well-organized collection of Doré’s Biblical work.
Do you have a personal favorite image from Doré’s oeuvre?
A bit of Doré trivia: Doré would often have apprentices work on a piece that he’d later sign off on. As this article on Doré notes, “many works signed by Doré are primarily works done by his apprentices under his direction so being true to type isn’t the sole criteria. For example, for “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” he had worked with some of his engravers so many times that he sketched the drawing directly on large woodblocks and the engravers completed the work. This is the other signature you see on many of the illustrations.”