"Divine Comedy" through the eyes of artists and sculptors of the past: Botticelli, Blake, Rodin, etc
"Divine Comedy" through the eyes of artists and sculptors of the past: Botticelli, Blake, Rodin, etc

The Divine Comedy is an Italian work by Dante Alighieri, which is the most real source of inspiration for creators from all over the world. The hidden symbolism, semantic load and philosophy of this Renaissance work prompted the well-known creative geniuses not only to show interest in it, but also to play up the images presented in the text in their own style.

Map of Hell, illustration for "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri, Sandro Botticelli. \ Photo: franciscojaviertostado.com

The Divine Comedy and its original manuscript, as well as all subsequent copies, at all times were considered and continue to be considered the most treasure trove, the heart of the literary world, in particular poetry in the genre of the epic. The plot that revolves around the protagonist of the same name is largely autobiographical, except for the supernatural elements present throughout the story.

Dante Fleeing from Three Beasts, illustration for The Divine Comedy, William Blake. \ Photo: stereoklang.se

The epic, like the works of Homer, Sophocles (playwright), Ovid and Virgil, who had a great influence on the Italians of the 13th-14th centuries, does a great job of mixing religious and political ideologies, and most importantly, love, or what the author considers Divine love. Dante's descriptions provide poignant images that open the imagination and inspire men and women to many of the wonders of hyperrealism.

Dante and Virgil at the Gates of Hell, illustration for The Divine Comedy, William Blake. \ Photo: google.com

Alighieri's work is the pinnacle of human emotion that explores the depths of what is human connection, and with this Dante brings expressionism to poetry and art, a function that will not only influence artists globally over centuries and across a multitude of media formats, but will also create an unprecedented shift in art towards itself.

The first part of this poem by Dante, and probably the most popular (among artists as well) is "Hell", a story about his travels through the nine circles of Hell to reunite / save his love - Beatrice. Dante's travels aim to reverse this process and remove the obstacles that hold him back from God, which can only be achieved through surrender to Beatrice's soul and her abilities. This suggests that going crazy in the name of love is worth the immortality that it can bring.

Hell, illustration for Dante's poem "The Divine Comedy", William Blake. \ Photo: wikiart.org

Dante himself went from infamous to famous for his labors and doubts about the Catholic Church. The exile and the loneliness that followed were some of the first catalysts when it came to The Divine Comedy. It also served as an excellent link between Dante and the artists, who, with great zeal and interest, depicted entire passages of the legendary work in their works.

Engravings by the famous 19th century French artist Gustave Dore for The Divine Comedy. Grotesque images of demons and sinners in the ominous depths of Dante's Hell. \ Photo: pinterest.ru

Although The Divine Comedy was originally illustrated by Dante himself, the artists felt obligated to portray their own imagery from the startling text. One of the first significant artists to take on this task was Luca Signorelli, a 15th-16th century Renaissance painter known for his ability to foresee the human form. Despite the fact that Luca's work is not an exact copy of Dante's painted scene, the artist left a draft called Inferno XVI.The scene depicts sodomites, both men and women, but mostly men, with an emphasis on the three Guelphs who all go hand in hand, mentioned by Dante in Canto XVI, where the protagonist and his guide Virgil stand above, looking down at the decimation.

Dante and his "Divine Comedy". \ Photo: factinate.com

Over time, The Divine Comedy became more and more popular and standard in the world of the privileged and educated. Many tried to illustrate cards that matched the storyline, but this fashion was later toned down by a more psychological take on the characters in the text. It began in the 18th century with the distinguished artist and founder of the Royal Academy of Arts in England, Joshua Reynolds. He painted a group portrait called Ugolino and His Children, a scene that was of particular interest to visual artists because of its grotesque nature. The story of Ugolino is the story of a political traitor for whom the ninth circle of hell is reserved. In fact, Ugolino is one of the last survivors of the wars, where he was captured and imprisoned. While imprisoned, he gnaws at his own hands, and his children, thinking that he is dying of hunger, offer him their bodies for consumption.

Dante's meeting with Virgil and the beginning of their journey through the afterlife (medieval miniature). \ Photo: twitter.com

This work is an outstanding piece, bringing new rhetoric to a history that is now hundreds of years old, and showcases his neoclassical style with the highest dignity even with the despicable actions that have been shown.

Another English artist of the royal academy, Henry Fuseli (Heinrich Fuseli), leaves a stark contrast to Reynolds just a few decades later in his portrayal of Ugolino and his sons starving to death in a tower. The engraving depicts the antagonist as a more pitiful creature.

Illustration by Gustave Dore for Song II "Hell", 1900 edition. \ Photo: paxlaur.com

Henry's work influenced the multi-talented William Blake, who also took Ugolino as the subject of his painting Ugolino and His Sons in a Cell. Blake, whose dark images can be seen in other works, brings a new lightheartedness to this theme. Two angels hover over the characters, bringing a radiant sparkle to the cold chamber they are being held in. This image is strikingly different, and there is some calm ahead of the main event of cannibalism that is about to take place. Blake most likely uses this to focus on the sacrifice the children are about to make in an act of filial piety, and works to capture their innocence and salvation through the angels. Blake brings the notion that these children will not be forced to atone for their father's sins, and their death in this scenario will be the honorable and best thing that can happen to them.

Paradise, illustration for Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Meanwhile, in the same period of the 19th century, French artists were inspired by Dante's liturgical manuscripts. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres addressed the images of infidelity and adultery through his painting Gianciotto Catches Paolo and Francesca. The context revolving around the love triangle is that Francesca seduces her lover, Giancotto, Paolo's brother. Dante sees this on his travels through Hell, and Ingres captures the climax when Giancotto learns of his wife's treachery. Giancotto enters, sword in hand, and sees his brother pressing his lips to his brother's brightly dressed bride. Ingres takes a magnificent perspective with the swordsman stepping out from behind the tapestry, while the lovers are unaware and enjoy the moment in ecstatic bliss.

Paolo and Francesca, fragment from The Divine Comedy, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. \ Photo: boards.fireden.net

Ingres's French Contemporary, Eugene Delacroix, touched upon the theme of the pilgrim's journey on water with Virgil in Dante's Boat.

The narrative he presents is that of Dante and Virgil sailing with Phlegia on a lake that looks like the Greek river Styx, en route to the hellish city of Dis. The romantic Delacroix, continuing in the format of a pyramidal composition, uses the palette in the same way to direct the eye and create a melodrama. The psychological portrait of The Divine Comedy extends along with this work.The dead portray a mesmerizing realism, yet remain in harmony with the grotesque nature they carry. Virgil and his companion look extremely nervous as they sail past those who have spent their entire lives as an outcast.

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. \ Photo: pinterest.com

Another Dante, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, an artist of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as well as a writer and translator, also mistook the fictional epic for its symbolism. Rossetti became quite familiar with the work of his namesake and translated the poem into English. A couple of years later, the artist began work on a portrait symbolizing his own beloved, called "Blessed Beatrice." This play is elegantly framed in the form of a diptych, Beatrice, depicted in high spirits, seemed satisfied or resigned to her death, while the lover, abandoned by her, was very alarmed.

Kiss, Auguste Rodin. \ Photo: noticiasdebariloche.com.ar

The kiss is a theme that reappears in the course of art history, but this particular theme is attributed to the adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca. In his marble work, Auguste Rodin foreshadowed a fatal end for a passionate couple. Unconsciously being watched, they give themselves to each other completely, with reckless dedication, thereby deciding their fate with such a rash act.

Hell's Gate was a master project that took many years and was postponed indefinitely. Rodin sculpted hundreds of figures that depict various characters from Dante's journey through Hell, which ended in a breathtaking spectacle.

Gates of Hell (detail), 1890, Auguste Rodin. \ Photo: regnum.ru

These examples are just a few of the many who draw artistic inspiration from the great storyteller Dante, and every year more and more new works appear from artists around the world. The Divine Comedy portrays human emotions in such a way that fine art can only try to capture one frame at a time, but still bring more vivid life to our imaginations. These artists show the complexities caused by the timeless text that shapes our understanding of art in general in so many different sets, and by creating their own worlds, Dante helped shape ours.

Continuing the theme of writers and artists - read about what actually connected Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, and why they so vehemently tried to spite each other, but at the same time they always became a support for each other in difficult times.

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