Artists Inspired on Dante

Introductory note

It is impossible to know how many artists and their works of art were inspired on Dante’s works. Probably in the hundreds and their works in the thousands for each century up to the 19th. After that, in the thousands of artists  and the works, with modern media, in the millions.

I looked over at Internet and although there is a comprehensive determination of the commissioned artists and their works, I couldn’t find such a list for those only inspired by him.

Professor Suzanne Magnanini runs a course which describes the sources of images Dante would have draw from, and I quote:

Many of Dante’s most fantastic images in the Inferno are formed through references to the medieval art and architecture that surrounded him:

the enchained giants ringing the lower circle of hell are compared to the towered walls of the Tuscan city of Monteriggioni;

 

simonists are stuck upside down in holes in the ground that resemble the baptismal fonts in Pisa;

 

heretics emerge from tombs that recall medieval Italian graveyards.

 

In constructing his literary Hell, Dante drew inspiration from visual representations of the underworld he saw in the mosaics in Florence’s Baptistery

florence-baptistry-universal-judgement-hell

and Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

Scrovegni

In turn his poem inspired many artists, such as Sandro Botticelli,

 

to depict Hell in manuscripts, paintings, or frescoes and greatly influenced the creation of a new iconography of the underworld.

hell and underworld

In this global seminar we will study Dante’s Inferno, visit the sites he references in order to help his readers visualize Hell, and analyze visual representations of the underworld created from the eleventh through sixteenth centuries.

 

This course provides students with a profound understanding of one of the key texts of the Western literary canon and of its influence on the visual arts in the centuries following its creation. Students will also hone their critical thinking skills while developing the skills necessary for perceptive literary and cultural analysis.

Supposedly, the descritpion above depicts the inspiration of Dante to write down how he conceived the Christian Faith eschatology, or the ultimate end of the human destiny.

To that it should be added the concepts expressed in the analysis done at Dante’s influence on the visual arts in the centuries following his creation.

I REC propose tentatively a structure of appreciation dividing it by each century following his death. He lived between the 13th and 14th century, when mostly only commissioned artists worked based on him.  One noted exception the Gates of Paradise, which is the main gate of the Baptistry of Florence (Battistero di San Giovanni), located in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Here I will sort of summarize and give examples of what seems to me the most popular work of art on the subject and separately, I will try a more in deep analysis of notable artists or works of art at the article Artists inspired or which recall visually Dante

14th Century

Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a life of the poet and delivered the first public lectures on The Divine Comedy around 1373-1374 in the 14th century, meaning that Dante was the first of the moderns whose work found its place with the ancient classics in a University Course.

In the second half of the 14th and in the beginning of the 15th century, the humanists focused on the linguistic qualities of Dante’s text and considered it “the first configuration of humanist poetics” Dante was seen as proto humanist avant la lettre, whose words centred around the inspirational and rhetorical capacities of man.

15th Century

He really got started to be source of inspiration from the next century after his death, the  15th. which at its end is crowned by Boticelli depictions.

16th Century

17th Century

What influence did Dante have on the Reformation? And how has he sustained such popularity?

Take a look in the framing under Visual Arts

I should be clear that Dante lived two centuries before the start of the Protestant Reformation, from 1265 to 1321. That said, in the Divine Comedy, Dante decried the corruption of the Catholic Church of his times: the economic decadence of simony, money-grubbing religious orders, sexual misdeeds of the clergy, the political machinations of the papacy, and the non-Christian actions they engaged in. So, in many ways, Dante was a reformer in line with the spirit of 16th-century Protestants.

Indeed, in 17th-century England, some writers talked about Dante as a de facto Protestant, employing him in their anti-Catholic propaganda. It was wholly inaccurate and terribly anachronistic, of course, but it had some foundations in Dante’s work.

Dante was interested in exploring the universal truths, as he understood them, but the vehicle he chose to do so is extremely specific. Most classical epic poems deal with the actions of a great hero from the historical past. The protagonist of the Divine Comedy, conversely, is Dante himself, set in 1300, the year he turned 35. Throughout the poem, he refers to his own family, other works he had written, and autobiographical experiences.

In “Inferno,” for instance, it is not a faceless everyman who takes a mystical journey through hell, but a specific individual, with friends, enemies, and a unique history. On the way, he meets real, historical individuals and not vague abstractions crafted merely to exemplify a specific sin.

Similarly, the entire underworld has a gripping topography, which exemplifies the organization of the sins. At the same time, it also makes the work vivid and easy to read. Because of the conical structure of hell, at no time does the reader lose track of where Dante is in his descent through human evil.

18th Century

19th Century

At the 19th Century there is an interesting analysis from Stanford University linking Dante’s Inferno and the United States

Carpeaux’s sculpture “Ugolino and His Sons” (1865-67) depicted a violent scene from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” of a father eating his own children.

19th-Ugolino_and_His_Sons_MET_DP247545

WILLIAM BOUGUEREAU (1825 – 1905)

This author produced many realistic paintings on mythological and religious themes.
Unfortunately, his art was not appreciated during his lifetime because of his rejection of the Impressionist and Avant-garde movements. While he is best known for paintings such as L’Amour et Psyche, he is also the author of Dante and Virgil in Hell, the painting that ties him to The Divine Comedy.
In Canto VII, Dante and Virgil encounter falsifiers, which include alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and imposters.
Capocchio, a heretic and alchemist, is attacked and bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi, who had usurped the identity of a dead man to fraudulently claim his inheritance.

 

They smote each other not alone with hands,/But with the head and with the breast and feet,/Tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth.
(Inferno, Canto 7)

19th Dante-Bouguereau

AUGUSTE RODIN (1840 – 1917)

Press here for more detailed information and images

Rodin claimed that he never went anywhere without a copy the Divine Comedy in his pocket. This French sculpter was fascinated by Dante’s ability to “sculpt” his characters through language.
The work that bound Rodin to Dante is the Gates of Hell. It was commissioned in 1880 and remains unfinished.
Rodin decided to make a portal, a subject that had yet to be taken up, and chose to represent Dante’s hell using sketches that he had been working on for years. It is clear that he had been inspired by the famous Gates of Paradise in the Baptistry of Florence.
On top of the door stand three Shades, which work to effect, in a procedure most modern, the threefold repetition of the same figure devoid of an arm. The Thinker (Dante himself) stands above the abyss. On the door on the right is the recognizable figure of Count Ugolino.
On the left, Paolo and Francesca are inserted into a roll of bodies. The whole emerges from bubbling lava. The convulsive gestures express despair, pain, and punishment.
Rodin created approximately 227 figures, not withstanding hundreds of preparatory drawing

FRANZ VON BAYROS (1866 – 1924)

Franz von Bayros, illustrator, author of Ex Libris, and Austrian painter, is famous mainly for his illustrations of erotic books, including The Divine Comedy (Vienna, 1921) and classics on erotic world literature (the Decameron of Boccaccio, Berlin, 1910; Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, Berlin, 1913).

In these illustrations, Bayros’s richly detailed, suffused, pre-Raphaelite style, evidenced in The Divine Comedy, incorporates the more sophisticated influence of Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha and Koloman Moser, which marked the birth of the new century.

19th. Bayros-divine-comedy

20th Century

Adaptations of Dante help maintain interest in his work among the public. And it’s interesting to see how other artists reinterpret the work. How do they update it for the contemporary world? There are portions of Dante’s work that are now out of date. People in the Middle Ages were really preoccupied with usury and heresy, for instance. Nowadays, those sins aren’t much of a concern.
Conversely, Dante couldn’t include forms of evil like genocide in his hell because that’s a modern-day invention. Yet the concept of a hell organized around a classification of types of evil is still very seductive.
I could also talk about musical composers like Franz Liszt and Tchaikovsky, who’ve set the Divine Comedy to music. And there are far too many writers, literary critics, and commentators to mention

19th. Gates-of-hell-rodin-768x1024

21rst Century

La Monica Everett-Haynes-Arizona

What more can we learn/gain from work that, in this case, is more than 700 years old? In what ways, then, are the messages timeless that Dante advanced?

In the Divine Comedy, Dante tackles the big questions. The first portion, “Inferno,” is about categorizing and understanding the forms of human evil in all its forms, from the banal to the depraved. “Inferno” doesn’t merely represent an eternal torture chamber. It is, really, a meditation on evil.

Dante approaches the question of evil from the perspective of a medieval Christian, but the question is relevant no matter your religion. You have only to pay attention to the world around you to start wondering about evil behaviors, both great and minor.

The middle portion, “Purgatorio,” really explores human nature, and the ways we can transcend our fallen state, how we can overcome our human weaknesses.

And the last portion, “Paradiso,” is about goodness. It’s all couched as a literal journey through the Christian afterlife. “Paradiso” deals with transcendence, redemption, and virtue. But it’s the “Inferno” that has the greatest appeal in the contemporary world.

Sadly, I think cultural and historical events in the past few decades have made it easier for us to conceive of hell than it is to conceive of paradise.

 

Dante 1265 – 1321

13th    1201 – 1300
14th    1301 – 1400
15th    1401 – 1500
16th    1501 – 1600
17th    1601 – 1700
18th    1701 – 1800
19th    1801 – 1900
20th    1901 – 2000

Next Perspective: Dante on the movies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visual Representations of the Divine Comedy

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