Daphnis and Chloe is a pastoral elegy attributed to the Greek poet Longus, dating from the second century A.D. It is a classical romance involving the adventures of two foundling children raised by shepherds in the idyllic setting of the Isle of Lesbos. As Daphnis and Chloe grow to be young adults tending their parents' flock on the sun-drenched Grecian pastures, their friendship turns to love.
Chagall had always been delighted with the tale, which analyzed the simple, mutual passion of two abandoned children who are protected by nymphs and the god Pan. When it was suggested to Chagall by Tériade, the famed Parisian publisher, that he illustrate the fable of Daphnis and Chloe, Chagall began his preparation for the project by making two trips to Greece. While visiting Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Nauplis and Poros, Chagall executed a number of preliminary sketches and gouaches for the series. Falling in love with Greece--its landscape, history and climate--deeply influenced his choice of color and form for the Daphnis and Chloe lithographs. It has been said of Chagall that he neither added nor subtracted from what his imagination understood from the text. The result was imagery that illustrated the elegy from a more intimate perspective, thus transforming the world of Daphnis and Chloe into a universal Eden where figures seem to float in an atmosphere of infinite happiness and warmth.
Charles Sorlier, the colorist for the project, hand-mixed the color palette Chagall used in this suite. He and Chagall worked together to develop new blues and greens to meet Chagall's vision of this paradisiacal story. Chagall also experimented with surface textures. It was standard at the time this suite was published to use approximately 3 to 6 lithographic stones in creating a single print. Chagall generally used 25 to 30 individual stones per print in the Daphnis and Chloe suite, thus creating the density and layering of color that distinguishes this landmark suite.
The format of the book is 12-5/8 x 16-1/2" and it contains 42 lithographs. The illustrations are full-page without margins; 26 are in 12-1/2 x 16-1/2" format, and 16 on facing pages, that is, in 16-1/2 x 25-1/4" format. The lithographs are presented in two volumes, boxed together, and the text was printed by the French Imprimerie Nationale.