“The Taming of the Shrew” published by Rech in 2018 (@rechbooks) includes more than 60 chromolithographs by Yuri Gershkovich, an award-winning Soviet artist who illustrated more than 250 books.
It must be hard to illustrate plays designed for the stage. Texts are almost entirely dialogues with very little (if any) description of the settings and characters. The artist has to become the artistic director in their own visual theatre imagining the sets, costumes, mise-en-scenes and action sequences to illustrate.
Gershkovich’s illustrations range from small in-text fragments and visual accents to full-page and double-spread pictures. His draughtsmanship is of the highest quality. The Renaissance perspective of the architectural settings coupled with the realism of the characters and dramatic chiaroscuro evoking stage lighting, all work together to immerse the reader into Gershkovich’s visual theatre and Shakespear’s comedy action.
In a number of mise-en-scenes classical sculptures mimic or allude to the scenes of the main characters. I love the humour this adds to the visual narrative. In the scene where furious Katherina breaks the lute against the head of her annoying suitor Gortensio, the marble sculpted duo behind them replicate the spirit of this encounter flashing out its comic dramatism. I love the subdued reddish-brown palette of these chromolithographs, which situate the story in the bygone time and place which I wouldn’t mind being born into in my next life.
The clever references to classical motifs and Renaissance art abound, like the equestrian statue of Gattamelata by Donatello appearing in the early Acts unfolding in the Italian town of Padua. The architecture and interiors of Petruchio’s and Minola’s palaces are evocative of the early Italian Renaissance houses, with Rembrandt-esque and Titian-esque art lining the walls. The energy in the depiction of Petruchio abducting the headstrong and disagreeable Katherina from their own wedding reception reminds me of Zeus abducting Europa.
What’s your favourite illustrated Shakespeare?