Bible in French, 1866

Tours: Alfred Mame and Son, 1866

This beautifully printed French Bible includes 228 original images designed by the French artist Gustave Doré (1832-83). They remain the major work of an artist who was also a painter and a sculptor and had already created 2,000 illustrations when he started working on the Bible. The Bible images from the 1866 French edition were reprinted one year later in British and German editions of the text. By the late 1870s they were a standard feature of American Family Bibles. Their popularity increased over the next few decades and started to decline only at the beginning of World War I.  It is widely believed that at least 2,000 editions of the Doré Bible illustrations had been produced so far.

The Bible Doré had been commissioned to illustrate was a Catholic Bible and its printing had been entrusted to one of the leading publishers of Catholic books in France. The British edition of the Doré Bible was targeting a Protestant public and included the Protestant King James Version. Some changes in the illustrations proved necessary. In the Catholic tradition visual representations of God the Father are perfectly acceptable, but in many Protestant denominations they are not. The frontispiece of the French edition, shown here, represents God in the primordial act of creating the Light. This powerful image was disturbing to one of the original British publishers, who felt that it violated the Second Commandment and ordered his engravers to erase God’s image from Doré’s illustration. In the United States, the image was either omitted altogether or printed in its altered form. The same is true of the three other Doré images that included a depiction of God the Father: the Formation of Eve, the Call of Abraham, and the Burning Bush. In the English editions, the last two were omitted while the first one was modified.