Dante's Divine Comedy - Dean Lesser

Dante Alighieri was a 14th century poet and his most famous work is his epic poem entitled, The Divine Comedy. The story tracks Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven while allegorically representing the soul's journey towards God. This gallery includes paintings and drawings that were inspired by or included for the visual portrayal of Dante's epic poem and serve as an amalgam of spiritually influenced artistry. 

St Peter and St James with Dante and Beatrice, William Blake, (1824-1827), From the collection of: National Gallery of Victoria
In the third section of Dante's poem, Paradiso, Dante and Beatrice are traveling through Heaven. In this particular instance, St James appears to join St Peter to question Dante about Hope, just as Peter had questioned him about Faith earlier. The bright colors and flashes help further indicate the glory of Heaven and the importance of the Saints and their questions.
Antaeus setting down Dante and Virgil in the Last Circle of Hell, William Blake, (1824-1827), From the collection of: National Gallery of Victoria
William Blake paints a colorful portrayal of a scene in the first section of the epic poem, Inferno, when Virgil asks the giant Antaeus to help lower him and Dante down into the last circle of Hell. By utilizing very angular lines and drastic stretching of form and shape, he successfully encapsulates Antaeus' size and strength.
Dante and Virgile, William Bouguereau, 1850, From the collection of: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Inspired by a scene in Inferno, where Dante and Virgil witness a fight between two damned souls, Bouguereau beautifully paints a darkly colorful representation of the intensity and savageness of Hell. With a heavy red and black presence behind the characters, the light on the men fighting is further amplified as the focus of the painting.
Dante Meditating on the "Divine Comedy", Jean-Jacques Feuchère, 1843, From the collection of: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
With a swirling explosion of chaotic turmoil surrounding him, Dante is depicted quietly pondering his Divine Comedy. Feuchere cleverly circumscribes Dante's lonely red figure within the prodigious calamity of contorted characters to symbolize the imaginativeness of the epic poem itself, stemming from one man's perspective of the afterlife. Perhaps also a duality of life and the afterlife.
Drawings for Dante´s Divine Comedy, Sandro Botticelli, 1480 - 1495, From the collection of: Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Taking place in one of the circles of Hell in Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch on as panderers and flatterers are chased by demons and beaten as they run away but are unable to escape. Botticelli organizes his painting in a very concise manner so as to properly portray a proportionate layout of the scene. Minimizing the amount of colors added also helps draw the viewers eyes around the painting in an interesting fashion.
Dante running from the three beasts, William Blake, (1824-1827), From the collection of: National Gallery of Victoria
With a colorful interpretation, Blake portrays the very beginning of the epic poem carefully where Dante is fleeing the beasts of worldly temptation and gets saved by Virgil who represents reason and will help save Dante. Virgil is painted in a very Christ-like and divine fashion to help symbolize his importance and righteousness. Dante is painted in an exaggeratedly cowardly position to further exemplify his need of help.
The schismatics and sowers of discord: Mahomet, William Blake, (1824-1827), From the collection of: National Gallery of Victoria
In this painting, Dante and Virgil are witnessing a particular section of Inferno where sinners are being punished with self mutilation for selfishly taking advantage of others. Blake graphically depicts the gore of the scene but in an oddly colorful and upbeat type of way, wherein Mahomet calmly shows Dante and Virgil his entrails.
Salutation of Beatrice, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1880 - 1882, From the collection of: The Toledo Museum of Art
Beatrice, the main reason Dante wrote his poem, both within the story and in reality, is depicted here calmly representing the essence of beauty and love. Dante seeks to finally reach her to attain a state of grace and divine revelation, so Rossetti fittingly paints Beatrice as a lovely personification of Dante's aspiration.
In order to ascend to Heaven, sinners must achieve reconciliation through the sacrament of penance or confession, so here Botticelli depicts a drawing of Dante's confession. Though it is rough and lacking definition, the detail within each character is still intriguing and an excellent usage of form and shape.
A very minimalistic drawing, the Ascent to Sloth is depicted in this Botticelli drawing where Virgil teaches Dante the nature of love and the structure of Purgatory, which is in the second section of the epic poem. Utilizing line, shape, and form, Botticelli still details each character in this somewhat of a rough sketch, though it is lacking an overall fullness and thorough completion.
Credits: All media
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