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Dante and Virgil in Hell, also known as The Barque of Dante

© RMN (Musée du Louvre) / Droits réservés

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Vincent Pomarède

"No canvas better reveals the future of a great painter" - it was with these words that Thiers in 1822 described the first work submitted to the Salon by Delacroix, then still in his early twenties. With this novel subject inspired by Dante's Inferno, the somber conception and profoundly dramatic composition, as well as references to Michelangelo and Rubens, the artist pushed painting in a new direction, soon to be qualified as "romantic."

New boldness

The time of classical painters imitating Greek and Roman art was over: they no longer had a place in current tastes. The underlying idea behind The Barque of Dante is that great geniuses from other lands have written works suffused with a way of seeing and feeling quite different from that of the French. Reading them stimulates the mind through new subject matter and the imagination through new boldness. So new, in fact, that Delacroix's painting was not without its critics: "a real daub" was how Delécluze, a disciple of David, described it. Delacroix drew on the visionary writing of the Italian poet in order to create a painting of definite force and romanticism.

Making way towards Hell

Although inspired by the mythological tradition, the subject of the work is the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). In the Divine Comedy (1306-21), Dante recounts his poetic visit to Hell, guided by Virgil. The Divine Comedy is divided into three parts: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante's voyage begins in Hell in the company of the Roman poet, passing through nine successive circles on his way to meet Beatrice, who will guide him through Paradise. In this scene, Dante and Virgil, piloted by Phlegyas, cross the lake surrounding the infernal city of Dis; the souls of the damned writhe in the water, trying to escape their fate by hanging onto the boat.

 

Bibliography

 

Technical description

  • Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne), 1798 - Paris, 1863)

    Dante and Virgil in Hell, also known as The Barque of Dante

    Salon of 1822

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.89 m; W. 2.41 m

  • Acquired in 1985 , 1822

    INV. 3820

  • Paintings

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