Had Dalí’s images for Macbeth been his sole artistic output, he’d still be remembered as a master draftsman. To bring Act II, Scene II to life, he drew Lady Macbeth in profile and her husband head-on, two halves of one gruesome face. His illustrations for Don Quixote are rougher and less illusionistic—studying them, you’re always conscious of their being works on paper, perfect for a novel about a man driven bonkers by his own library. His take on Alice in Wonderland, completed at the height of the counterculture movement, may be his most beloved contribution to the art of illustration; for Lewis Carroll, Dalí eschewed the crispness and lucidity of his earlier work in favor of a dreamier watercolor aesthetic.
He’d return to this aesthetic when it came time to illustrate the Bible, and the results vary between reverential and brilliantly cheeky. His interpretation of the fall of man—one of the quintessential subjects of Western art—features a bland, black-and-white Adam and Eve; the serpent, by contrast, is a clever little imp smuggling color into a dull, faithful world. It’s tempting to see all of Dalí’s biblical illustrations as an exercise in biting the hand that feeds; most of the time, however, Dalí executes something more challenging. He stays true to the Bible’s moral perspective while defamiliarizing his subjects: As Kempkens observes, some of the images seem almost confrontational in their newness, giving viewers the sense that they’re learning about the Creation or the Annunciation or the birth of Christ for the first time. The same could be said of Dalí’s terrifying, hollow-eyed Nebuchadnezzar; his sublimely understated Jonah; or his Virgin Mary, blue robes glowing with divine warmth.