Salvador Dali's Everyman: Renaissance and Baroque Classicism in Don Quixote and the Windmills (1946)

By Holcombe, William Daniel | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Salvador Dali's Everyman: Renaissance and Baroque Classicism in Don Quixote and the Windmills (1946)


Holcombe, William Daniel, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


Salvador Dali ilustra Don Quijote en Nueva York en 1946 para Random House y The Illustrated Modern Library, creando una edicion ilustrada unica. Este ensayo analiza la materialidad de esta edicion, junto con Dali como ilustrador, utilizando el desarrollo del clasicismo por parte de Dali como marco teorico. Un analisis de la segunda ilustracion, Don Quixote and the Windmills, revela que Dali reta al espectador, retratando al protagonista como un loco enganado y no como un heroe romantico, yuxtaponiendo la realidad con su fantasia en la misma composicion. Tambien utiliza metodologias renacentistas y barrocas para inspirar reflexion y duda en el espectador, motivandolo a consultar el texto para aclaracion.

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WRITING UNDER THE PSEUDONYM Felipe Jacinto in a 1941 book titled The Last Scandal of Salvador Dali, Catalonian surrealist artist Salvador Dali exclaimed: "Finished, finished, finished, a thousand times finished--the experimental epoch. The hour of individual creations is about to strike" (397). What appeared to be a sudden epiphany was instead the culmination of a series of insights that lead the artist to abandon automatism and focus on developing a classical technique within his own pioneering surrealistic vision. A few years later in 1946, Dali would partner with publisher Random House and its subsidiary, The Illustrated Modern Library, in New York to illustrate a fundamentally unique edition of Don Quixote titled The First Part of The Life and Achievements of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha. (1) The success of this unlikely creative pairing resulted from two mutually beneficial factors. First, Dali illustrated a classic text, thereby validating his "classical ambition" (Finkelstein 317). (2) Second, a paradoxical marketing decision paid off for Random House by utilizing high-quality and carefully contemplated illustrations for a mass marketed, shelf-sized edition of perhaps one of the worst colloquial English translations of Don Quixote in all of history--that of Peter Motteux in 1700. (3)

As classic literature and Greek and Roman iconography were quite popular both in New York cultural echelons and in publishing houses in general in the mid-twentieth century, Random House and The Illustrated Modern Library focused on making classic texts available and accessible to the United States reading public. To clarify, "classic texts" were defined by Random House not necessarily as ancient Greek and Roman texts, but rather as books such as Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, among others. This categorization included Don Quixote. Indeed, one recalls the major accomplishment Random House had previously achieved by publishing James Joyce's Ulysses for the first time in the United States in 1934. Riding on this success, the publisher began to produce smaller editions of classic texts that could fit in one hand, and more importantly, could fit on a department store shelf. Courting the emerging middle class as a target reading public, classic books were strategically taken out of the libraries and marketed to appeal to the North American everyman. (4)

Considering these two factors as framing referents, this essay analyzes the unusual materiality of the Random House 1946 Don Quixote edition first as contextualized by mid-twentieth century methodological and aesthetic changes implemented by Dali. Second, it reveals how Dali preserved the essence of the original reader reception of Don Quixote within Spain--as a burlesque and comedic text--by choosing not to reduplicate French and English Romantics' universalized iconography, in which the noble deeds of the knight errant were traditionally illustrated. Specifically, it highlights examples of how Dali rendered Don Quixote as a comedic figure based in burla (mockery) and engano (self-deception) in the composition of Don Quixote and the Windmills (1946), the second of ten watercolor illustrations from the 1946 edition. …

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