A few days ago I found a copy of the Doré Bible at a just-about-affordable price, and snapped it up.
The Doré Bible is an 1866 publication of the Bible with illustrations by Gustave Doré, usually considered one of the master engravers alongside Dürer and Hogarth. It’s a very interesting glimpse at what the Victorians took out of the Bible, compared to us.
Take the image to the right. This is one of Gustave Doré’s two illustrations for the story of Noah’s Ark, both of which emphasise the death and destruction of the “sinners” that were left behind. (Click on it for a link to Wikipedia, where I uploaded a 600dpi scan)
It’s really quite shocking to modern eyes – a story now considered a Children’s story was, in the eyes of Doré and his very popular edition of the Bible, one of horror, of parents trying desprately and futilely to save their children, of beasts trying to get their cubs to safety.
Indeed, Doré seems to actively shun the “obvious” choices. There is no illustration of Jesus in the manger: The Christmas story is instead illustrated solely by an image of the Wise Men and the Flight to Egypt. We don’t get the Garden of Eden or the Creation, but do see Cain and Abel’s sacrifices.
Oh, and the Apocrypha, not even published in most modern bibles, is lavishly illustrated.
Doré’s Bible is a strange to modern eyes, with the illustrations emphasising the death and horror far more than any modern preacher or edition ever would, but do not sensationalise it – instead merely presenting it as what happened.
Frankly, one has to believe that the Victorians truly believed in the Bible far more than any modern Christian – for what Modern Christian really thinks about what the stories mean for those God vanquished? – but, at the same time, did not have the same belief in God’s Love. When you look at Doré’s illustrations of Noah’s Ark, the story changes from a silly Children’s story to a tale about the horror of those God set out to kill. It’s hard to see that God as one that loves humans.