“Dante and The Divine Comedy: He took us on a tour of Hell”

“Literary ambition seems to have been with Dante, born in 1265, from early in life when he wished to become a pharmacist. In late 13th Century Florence, books were sold in apothecaries, a testament to the common notion that words on paper or parchment could affect minds with their ideas as much as any drug.

“And what an addiction The Divine Comedy inspired: a literary work endlessly adapted, pinched from, referenced and remixed, inspiring painters and sculptors for centuries. More than the authors of the Bible itself, Dante provided us with the vision of Hell that remains with us and has been painted by Botticelli and Blake, Delacroix and Dalí, turned into sculpture by Rodin – whose The Kiss depicts Dante’s damned lovers Paolo and Francesca – and illustrated in the pages of X-Men comics by John Romita. Jorge Luis Borges said The Divine Comedy is ‘the best book literature has ever achieved’, while TS Eliot summed up its influence thus: ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.’ Perhaps the epigraph to The Divine Comedy itself should be ‘Gather inspiration all ye who enter here.’

“But it’s not just as a fountainhead of inspiration for writers and visual artists that The Divine Comedy reigns supreme – this is the work that enshrined what we think of as the Italian language and advanced the idea of the author as a singular creative voice with a vision powerful enough to stand alongside Holy Scripture, a notion that paved the way for the Renaissance, for the Reformation after that and finally for the secular humanism that dominates intellectual discourse today. You may have never read a single line of The Divine Comedy, and yet you’ve been influenced by it.”   –Christian Blauvelt, BBC, 2018

Read the full article here.

“How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think”

“Our ancestors developed their ideas of Hell by drawing on the pains and the deprivations that they knew on earth. Those imaginings shaped our understanding of life before death, too. They still do.

[. . .]

“The great poetic example of the blurriness between the everyday and the ever after is Dante’s Inferno, which begins with the narrator ‘midway upon the journey of our life,’ having wandered away from the life of God and into a ‘forest dark.’ That wood, full of untamed animals and fears set loose, leads the unwitting pilgrim to Virgil, who acts as his guide through the ensuing ordeal, and whose Aeneid, itself a recapitulation of the Odyssey, acts as a pagan forerunner to the Inferno. This first canto of the poem, regrettably absent from the ‘Book of Hell,’ reads as a kind of psychological-metaphysical map, marking the strange route along which one person’s private trouble leads both outward and downward, toward the trouble of the rest of the world.

[. . .]

“Dante, writing in the early fourteenth century, drew on a bounty of hellish material, from Greek, Roman, and, of course, Christian literature, which is rife with horrible visions of Hell.”   –Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 2019

Read the full article here.

Don Thompson’s “The Wood of Suicides”

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“The Wood of Suicides. Canto XIII, Inferno. These images were taken adjacent to campus, after the Malibu fires.” [. . .]    –Don Thompson,  d.t. pepperdine, October 2007.

Emma Safe’s “Between Three Worlds”

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“Taking influence from personal experience, classical mythology and Dante’s Commedia, concentrating particularly on existential and ontological themes, the works collected as Between Three Worlds explore human potential and human transience. Space and time is radically questioned. Figures are pulled between states of being; through sublime ascent, catastrophic destruction and the uneasy predicaments in-between. Avoiding idealism and with no certain answers, these works attempt to question different types of love, different states of being, examining the edges of existence and beyond.” [. . .]    –Emma Safe, Between Three Worlds.

Deirdre Bennett’s Oil Paintings

Deirdre Bennett is a contemporary mixed-media artist, several of whose works are inspired by Dante’s Inferno. To the left is pictured her oil painting Apathy and Non-Committal, which she describes thus on her site: “In Canto 3, Verse 55 Dante is confronted by the apathetic, cowards and non committals. They are drawn by a white banner, worms at their feet and forever tortured by hornets and wasps. I feel apathy is a terrible plague of our century.”   —Deirdre Bennett Fine Art

See other pieces from Deirdre Bennett—including her City of Dis, Paolo and Francesca, and the Malebranche—on the artist’s site here.

“Where Did Our Ideas About Hell Originate?”

“The recent dispute over whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview attracted wide attention. This isn’t surprising, since the belief in an afterlife, where the virtuous are rewarded with a place in heaven and the wicked are punished in hell, is a core teaching of Christianity.

“So what is the Christian idea of hell?

[. . .]

“Perhaps the most fulsome description of hell was offered by the Italian poet Dante at the beginning of the 14th century in the first section of his ‘Divine Comedy.’ Here the souls of the damned are punished with tortures matching their sins. Gluttons lie in freezing pools of garbage, while murderers thrash in a river of boiling blood.”   –Joanne M. Pierce, Sojourners, 2018

Read the full article here.

“Protestant Theologians Reconsider Purgatory”

“This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“‘I got no problem praying for the dead,’ Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

“Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the ‘Romish doctrine’ of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

[. . .]

“‘I would often get negative reactions,’ Walls said about his early efforts, starting more than a decade ago, to pitch purgatory to Protestants. ‘But when I started explaining it, it didn’t cause a lot of shock.’

“Walls’ major work on the topic, ‘Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation,’ was published in 2012 and completes a trilogy on heaven, hell and the afterlife. He also has a popular, one-volume book synthesizing his ideas coming out from Brazos Press, which targets evangelical readers, and is writing an essay on purgatory for a collection about hell from the evangelical publisher Zondervan.”   –David Gibson, Sojourners, 2014

Read the full article here.

Theo Wujcik’s “Gates of Hell” (1987)

“One of Tampa Bay’s best-known artists, Theo Wujcik (1936-2014), spent a decade creating a series drawn from the dark and profound literary classic, Dante’s Inferno. Now, those extraordinary paintings are the theme for Theo Wujcik: Cantos, a special exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. This exhibition celebrates the work of Theo Wujcik (1936–2014), with a focus on the literary references in his work. A fixture of the Ybor City art scene, Wujcik was an accomplished master printer and painter whose expansive practice engaged deeply with art historical tradition and the global contemporary art world.

“This exhibition will premiere the Museum’s newest accession of Wujcik’s work, the diptych Gates of Hell (1987), which complements Canto II (1997), also in the collection. Both of these paintings are based on Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s (1265–1321) Inferno, the first part of the epic poem Divine Comedy. Also featured will be selections from the artist’s personal notebooks, collage studies, and a number of select loans.”  —Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, 2019

Learn more about Theo Wujcik’s exhibition here.

“Dante (Quinto Canto),” Painting by Mihail Ivanov

“This is the fifth song in the Divine Comedy, where Dante Alighieri ventures through the circles of hell, a lonely soul separates itself from the others and presents herself to the author, telling him her sad life story.”   —SAATCHI ART

Jacek Lipowczan, “Dante Cycle”

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Dante’s Way to Inferno

“Jacek Lipowczan signs his paintings as ‘JALI’. Jacek Lipowczan born in September 1951 in South Poland, studied on the Academy of  Fine Arts in Cracow and graduated in 1976 obtaining his Master of Art Degree in the Grafic Design in the atelier of Professor M. Wejman. His experience as junior scene designer in the team of Polish film Director Kazimierz Kutz introduced him to the works and projects of Andrzej Majewski. The fairy tale imaginative works of this Artist strongly influenced  Jacek Lipowczan’s future creativity and his artistic imagination.” [. . .]    –Jacek Lipowczan, Jacek Lipowczan Magical Dreams, 2018

The paintings from JaLi’s “Dante Cycle,” like the two images featured here, can be viewed in the virtual gallery on his website (2008 and 2009).

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Passing Through—Dante Cycle