“Message boards have erupted with contests to identify all those featured, who range from instantly recognisable figures like Gandhi to some more obscure figures such as Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler who limped out of the Beijing Olympics in the summer.
“An element of mystery also surrounds that origins of the picture, which appears to have drawn inspiration from Raphael’s Renaissance fresco The School of Athens. [. . .]
“Another clue comes from the three undistinguished men in contemporary dress who survey the scene from behind a wall at the top right of the picture.
“Internet detectives have identified these three as little-known Chinese/Taiwanese artists named as Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An.
“They created the oil painting – titled Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante – in 2006, although it has only become a viral internet hit in the past few weeks.
“Alastair Sooke, art writer at The Daily Telegraph, said that the work reflected a trend of contemporary Chinese artists adopting Western styles and subjects.
“‘But the Dante reference makes us wonder whether we are looking at some nether-circle deep inside the Inferno: this is a vision of Celebrity Hell,’ he added.” —Matthew Moore, London Daily Telegraph, 16 March 2009
Click here to view a high-resolution, annotated version of the painting. Dante may be seen with his Commedia in the upper right hand corner of the painting, standing among the three artists.