Artwork of The Divine Comedy

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In July, I spotlighted seven artists who illustrated The Divine Comedy, either in full or for one canticle. Now let’s look at some standalone art. Many of these pieces have been used in my Dantean posts.

Joseph Anton Koch, an Austrian-born painter of the Neoclassical and German Romantic schools, did four frescoes in Rome’s Casino di Villa Massimo, in what is now called the Dante Room, from 1827–29. The first fresco is entitled Dante nella Selva con le Fiere e Virgilio (Dante in the Forest with the Beasts and Virgil). Though the word fiere means “fairs” in Modern Italian, Dante used it to mean “beasts.”

The next fresco depicts Inferno as a whole, with illustrations of a few major episodes (e.g., the neutrals in Ante-Inferno, Charon with his ferry across Acheron, Minòs, Dante and Virgil on Geryon, Agnèl being turned into a snake, Francesca and Paolo, Cerberus, Count Ugolino).

All frescoes of Inferno copyright Sailko.

Koch’s third fresco, La Nave del Purgatorio, depicts Canto IX, one of my all-time favouritest in the book, at the top. There’s so much power, beauty, emotion, and tension jam-packed into its 145 lines. At the bottom is a boat of souls arriving in Purgatory. The right tells the story of Buonconte da Montefeltro, who died in battle and was fought over by the Devil and an angel. On the left are two angels vanquishing sin in the form of a snake.

Copyright Sailko.

Koch’s final fresco depicts souls from all seven terraces of Purgatory. The poem’s dramatic midway point, Canto XVI, is also shown, as Dante clings to Virgil in a thick, blinding cloud of smoke. Among the historical figures are Pope Adrian V and King Hugh Capet of France (my 34-greats-grandpap).

The ceiling, I Cieli dei Beati e l’Empireo (The Heavens of the Blessed and the Empyrean), was done by German Romantic painter Philipp Veit, and depicts Paradiso as a whole. People who appear here include Piccarda Donati, Empress Constance of Altavilla, Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Rahab of the Bible, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante’s great-great-grandpap Cacciaguida, Roman Emperor Trajan, King David, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, Adam, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Mary.

All closeups copyright Sailko.

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Jumping back to Canto I of Inferno, here we have French landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s 1859 work Dante et Virgile. Monsieur Corot (who was creepily, unhealthily co-dependent on and joined at the hip with his parents until his fifties) presented this shortly after he did it, but then forgot about it for years. When he ran across it in his studio, he told a friend, “Why, it’s superb; I can hardly imagine that I myself did that!” Today it’s in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which means I probably saw it at least once.

Dutch–French Romantic painter Ary Scheffer did at least six versions of this artwork, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil, from 1822–55. The oil painting is known by various titles—Les ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta apparaissent à Dante et à Virgile (The Louvre); De gedaantes van Paolo en Francesca aanschouwd door Dante en VergiliusThe Ghosts/Shades/Shadows of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appear to Dante and VirgilDante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in the Underworld (Pittsburgh); Dante and Virgil Meeting the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo (Cleveland).

Here’s one I haven’t shown yet, La Barque de Dante, aka Dante et Virgile aux enfers (1855), the first major work by French artist Eugène Delacroix. It depicts Canto VIII of Inferno, as Phlegyas ferries Dante and Virgil across the River Styx, the City of Dis in the background. Today it hangs in the Louvre.

Between 1853–58, Édoard Manet did two copies of this painting, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Italian painter Domenico Morelli (1823–1901) did this artwork, Dante e Virgilio nel Purgatorio, possibly around 1855. It depicts Canto II, as a light-enshrouded boat of newly-deceased souls draws close to the Mount of Purgatory, guided by an angel. In 1845, he did another piece drawn from the Commedia, L’angelo che Porta le Anime al Purgatorio Dantesco, which won an award. For the life of me, I’ve been unable to locate this other painting!

Here we see French painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin’s Le Dante, conduit par Virgile, offre des consolations aux âmes des envieux (Dante, led by Virgil, offers consolations to the souls of the envious) (1835). It depicts the Second Terrace of Purgatory in Canto XIII. I particularly like the look of compassion on Virgil’s face.

This painting is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon.

Pre-Raphaelite Greek–British painter Marie Spartali Stillman did many Dantean subjects, such as this 1887 work, Dante’s Vision of Leah and Rachel, depicting Dante’s third and final dream in Purgatorio. In the Earthly Paradise (i.e., the Garden of Eden) on top of the mountain, in Canto XXVII, he dreams of Leah gathering flowers by the river while Rachel gazes into the water.

And finally we have German painter Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Oesterley’s 1845 work Dante and Beatrice, depicting their contentious reunion in Canto XXX of Purgatorio. Dante is so overcome with shame and remorse, he’s unable to look her in the face.

And what do you know! By hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), nine artists were featured, representing Dante’s lucky number!

Illustrations to The Divine Comedy

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The Giant Antaeus Carries Virgil and Dante to the Ninth Circle of Hell, Bartolomeo Pinelli

Since the Commedia is such a visual book, it’s only natural many artists over the centuries have taken up the task of illustrating it. This post is about artists who illustrated the entire book (or an entire canticle), not artists who merely did one piece or a few pieces based on it.

1. Gustave Doré (né Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré) is probably the first artist most people think of, since his 136 woodcuts from the 1860s are so internationally famous. For this reason, the visuals in the 1911 Italian feature L’Inferno were based on Doré’s work. He also illustrated many other books and plays, as well as the Bible. My edition of Don Quixote has his 377 woodcuts.

Of all the artists who’ve illustrated the Commedia, Doré is one most commonly found in print. If you want illustrations by one of these other artists, you’ll probably have to spend a lot of money, and might not easily find such a volume.

Inferno I

Inferno III

Inferno XXII

Purgatorio XVI

Purgatorio I

Purgatorio V

Purgatorio XXXII

Paradiso III

Paradiso XX

Paradiso XXXI

2. Bartolomeo Pinelli did 145 prints during the first third of the 19th century. Though Doré’s art is more famous and evocative, I really like Pinelli’s illustrations, since they’re so cute and charming. It’s a shame they’re not better-known and more widely available. Sometimes simpler art speaks more powerfully or personally than detailed, sophisticated art.

Inferno III

Inferno XXXIII

Inferno frontispiece

Inferno XVII

Canto XIII, pl. 32 from L'Inferno di Dante (Dante's Inferno) - Bartolomeo Pinelli | FAMSF Search the Collections

Inferno XIII

Canto I, pl. 2 from L'Inferno di Dante (Dante's Inferno) - Bartolomeo Pinelli | FAMSF Search the Collections

Inferno I

La Commedia 'sublime' di Bartolomeo Pinelli | Istituto Centrale per la Grafica

Inferno III

Inferno XXXIV

Canto IX, pl. 26 from L'Inferno di Dante (Dante's Inferno) - Bartolomeo Pinelli | FAMSF Search the Collections

Inferno IX

Purgatorio II

3. William Blake received a commission for illustrating the Commedia in 1826, and produced 102 watercolours “during a fortnight’s illness in bed.” They were intended to be turned into engravings, but only seven made it to the proof state, and only a few watercolours were completed before Blake’s August 1827 death. He was said to have spent one of his last shillings on a pencil to continue working on this ambitious project.

I’d venture to say Blake is probably the next-best-known illustrator after Doré.

Inferno XXV

Inferno III

Inferno V

Inferno I

Inferno X

Paradiso XXV

Purgatorio XXXI

Purgatorio IX

Inferno XXXIII

Inferno XXIX

4. Stradanus (also known as Giovanni Stradano, Jan van der Straet, and Johannes Stradanus) created his series of sepia-toned prints between 1587–88, probably inspired by his friendship with exiled Florentine poet and politican Luigi Alamanni (1495–1556). Many members of the Alamanni family are mentioned in commissions for and dedications to prints. Stradanus’s work combines Italian Mannerism with Flemish style.

Unfortunately, Stradanus never completed this project, and only illustrated Inferno.

Inferno I

Inferno II

Inferno III

Inferno VI

Inferno VII

Inferno XIII

Inferno XXVIII

Inferno XXXIII

Inferno XXXIII

Inferno VIII

5. Sandro Botticelli was perhaps one of the earliest artists to do illustrations for a printed edition (as opposed to the illuminated manuscripts produced prior to the invention of the printing press). Goldsmith Baccio Baldini did the engravings of Botticelli’s artwork for a 1481 printing, but the results weren’t successful, as noted by art historian and artist Giorgio Vasari.

Since good artists learn from their mistakes and never let one flop get them down, Botticelli returned to the drawing board and created new illustrations between about 1485 and 1495, possibly until 1505 at the latest estimate. These 92 full-page drawings are considered among his very finest work, though only four are fully-coloured, and most are silverpoint, many worked over in ink.

For many years, this priceless book was lost. It finally resurfaced in the late 19th century, in the Duke of Hamilton’s Library and Vatican Library, thanks to art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen.

Map of Hell

Inferno XVIII

Inferno XV

Inferno X

Inferno XXXI

Paradiso XXX

Inferno XXXIV

Purgatorio X

Purgatorio XXXI

Inferno XXXIV

6. Master of the Pico della Mirandola Pliny, or Master Pico (whose real name I can’t find), illustrated the 1491 Venice edition with 101 woodcuts. While they have an undeniable folksy charm and sweet simplicity, they do appear kind of crude and unrefined next to the other artwork profiled here.

Contrary to every other artist I’ve come across, and historical evidence of Roman grooming habits, Master Pico depicts Virgil with a beard. He also depicts people in Purgatory as naked, something which also contradicts all other artists and what Dante himself writes. And as though readers can’t figure it out by themselves, he puts the first initial of each main character above their heads.

Purgatorio XXX

Purgatorio XI

Purgatorio X

Purgatorio XXI

Inferno XXXIV

Inferno XXV

Inferno II

Paradiso

Paradiso

Inferno IX

7. Giovanni di Paolo created 75 images for an illuminated manuscript of Paradiso, an honour he was chosen for on account of his 1441 appointment as rector of the painter’s guild. Two other artists, who are still unidentified, did the artwork for the other two canticles.

Paradiso VI