Ahead of the Printed Books & Manuscripts auction on Wednesday 29 November, Specialist Dr. Carmen Donia delves into a rare edition of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet offered in the sale, illustrated by iconic Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
The folio contains 10 colour lithographs and 99 pages of text with Dalí’s watermark. Translated by Gabriel Baldini, the limited edition folio was published by Rizzoli and issued in 999 copies only. Bound in a burgundy silk case, the title page is signed by Dalí. The volume also features a dedication to Pietro Cossu. Cossu first met Dalí in Rome when he was a flamenco guitarist and in Sardinia he owned three galleries dedicated to the artist.
Initial work started on the book in 1967, but was not completed until 1975. Dalí illustrated several literary classics, such as Shakespeare's Macbeth, Don Quixote (1946) and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1969), all apt for conveying the torn edges of human consciousness.
‘Dalí’s drawings are vivid and vibrant. In most images the characters are reduced to silhouettes, in alignment with the characteristic Surrealist process.’ – Dr. Carmen Donia
Dalí captures the general atmosphere of the play and it is only in the scene of the Romeo and Juliet's secret marriage that viewers can identify the characters: Romeo and Juliet are sitting on the ground, with Friar Laurence standing above. However, Dalí's interpretation of Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers is made strange and haunting.
‘Dalí uses primary colours, red and yellow, counterbalanced by the black. The symbolism of death dominates the illustrations, as the presence of the skull suggests.’ – Dr. Carmen Donia
The opening illustration depicts the home of the Capulet's, their castle in Verona, which reappears at the end of the tragedy as the backdrop for Romeo and Juliet’s death. This scene is spread across three of the lithographs. The red of the tower bricks, which is also the blood of Romeo and Juliet, is a powerful visual reminder of their tragic end.
Entries are currently invited for the sale, please contact the Books Department.