“An Architect’s Vision of Dante’s Hell”

“Based in Campinas, Brazil, Paulo de Tarso Coutinho is a professional architect with a passion for Dante who created the following videos to visually represent the spatial issues in play in the Dantean conception of hell. Drawing on the early modern reception of the Commedia, including Antonio Manetti (1423-1497) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Coutinho incisively reads Dante’s infernal journey in architectural terms and shows how the form of the spiral is a necessary solution for the way that the space of hell is narrated in the poem. In similar fashion, his video of Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) illustration of hell puts an emphasis on the concrete, creating a cross-section of the globe to put this infernal model in real space and highlighting Botticelli’s idiosyncratic use of staircases to think through the mechanics of Dante’s descent. Coutinho’s work is an important way of showing the degree to which Dante’s poetry was infused by the real, martialing mathematical and scientific currents to narrate a space that would inspire the sort of reception by later artists and thinkers who sought to map it in precise geographical and spatiotemporal terms. As Coutinho shows, that process continues still.”   –Akash Kumar, Digital Dante, 2018

Check out the Digital Dante site to view the videos.

Rebecca Solnit, “Check Out the Parking Lot”

Rebecca Solnit’s London Review of Books essay “Check Out the Parking Lot” is primarily a review of Sandow Birk’s illustrations of the Divine Comedy, but it also contains an extended comparison of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to the three realms of Dante’s afterlife. Here is an excerpt:

“[The Getty] is Dante’s Divine Comedy as a theme park, and just as in the Divine Comedy, the Inferno is the most compelling part.Getty-Museum-Dante-Solnit-Architecture

“You take the Getty exit, and if you’ve been heading north, swing over the overpass and, after a few wriggles, dive into the garage. You come out of the smog-filtered Los Angeles light (which always gives me the impression that a thrifty God has replaced our incandescent sun with diffused fluorescent light) into a dark passage. The garage is underlit, with a low-slung ceiling and construction that evinces the massive weight first of the cement slabwork and then of the floors and earth above. The weight presses down on you as the signs urge you onwards. Down you go, and down, and further down, spiralling into the seismically unstable bowels of the Los Angeles earth in circles of looming darkness, questing for a parking space of your own, further and further down. I believe there are nine circles, or levels, in this vehicular hell. Finally, you find a place for your car in this dim realm, stagger to an elevator, and move upwards more quickly than Dante ascended Purgatory.

Getty-Museum-Purgatory-Dante-Solnit“Though you aren’t in Purgatory yet. The elevator opens onto a platform where you can catch a monorail up the hill to the museum. Disneyland too has a monorail, and though on my first visit to the Getty I thought of it as a nice tribute to its sister amusement park, we perplexed everyone around us by walking up the unfrequented road the quarter mile or so to the museum. Altitude correlates neatly with economic clout in urban and suburban California, so although the presumed point of the Getty was to let people look at art, first they parked, then they looked at the mighty fortress of the Getty hunched up on high, and then up there at various junctures they got the billionaires’ view. Purgatory was the museum itself. There you went through the redemptive exercise of experiencing art, lots and lots of it, from ancient times through to the early 20th century, room after room of altarpieces and portraits and still lifes and drawings.” [. . .] — Rebecca Solnit, “Check Out the Parking Lot,” London Review of Books 26.13 (8 July 2004), 32-33.

The full LRB essay can be accessed here.


Chicago Cultural Center

Contributed by Dien Ho

ARoS Museum (Denmark): Inspired by Dante’s Comedy


“On the roof of a museum inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, a sculptural walkway resembling a many-colored halo is attracting record-breaking crowds. It offers a 360-degree view through multicolored glass of Denmark’s second-largest city and by night it lights up, the brightest illumination in western Denmark.” [. . .]    –Nicolai Hartivig, The New York Times, October 14, 2011

Contributed by Hope Stockton (Bowdoin, ’07)

Palacio Barolo, Argentina

barolo-palace-argentina“It was built by the Italian architect Mario Palanti (1885-1979) for his compatriot a powerful textile executive Luis Barolo (1869-1922), in the 1910’s decades, who used to think, as all Europeans settled in Argentina, that Europe would suffer numerous wars that would destroy the entire continent. In desperation to preserve the ashes of the famous Dante Alighieri, he wanted to construct a sanctuary on 1300 May Avenue, inspired by the work of the poet, The Divine Comedy.

[. . .]

“The building has plenty of references to Dante. The bulbs in the cupola represent the nine angelical choirs and the mystical rose. [. . .]

“The general division of the building and the poem is done in three parts: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. The ground floor is Hell, the first 14 floors are Purgatory, and following floors are Paradise and the cupola represents God.

“The number of Hell hierarchies is nine, and nine are the arches of access to the building which represent initiation steps. Each arch has Latin phrases taken from nine different works from the Bible to Virgil. The cupola resembles that of the Budanishar Hindu temple dedicated to Tantra, representing the union between Dante and Beatrice.

“The songs from Dante’s work are a hundred just as the height of the building is a 100 mts. The majority of songs in the poem have eleven or twenty-two stanzas; the building has eleven modules per front, and twenty-two modules per block. The height is twenty-two floors. This set of numbers represents the circle which was, to Dante the perfect figure.”    —Buenos Aires Travel

“. . .One of many buildings at risk of demolition, preservationists say, is the 1923 Palacio Barolo, a mansion commissioned by a self-made millionaire and designed in accordance with the cosmology of Dante’s Divine Comedy.” [. . .]    –Emily Schmall, The New York Times, April 15, 2013

See the Palacio Barolo website for more information and history.

See also Sebastián Schindel’s 2012 documentary El rascacielos latino, available to view on YouTube (in Spanish; last accessed March 20, 2020).

Contributed by Juan Vitulli (University of Notre Dame)

Inferno Enterprises Architects


Contributed by Ruth Caldwell

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision


“…Inside the building that tranquillity gives way to a comic-book version of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with strict divisions between various worlds. Visitors enter via an internal bridge that crosses over an underground atrium. From here, a vast hall conceived on the scale of a piazza leads to a cafeteria overlooking the calm surface of a reflecting pool. On one side of the hall looms the ziggurat form of the museum; on the other, a wall of glass-enclosed offices. Here the spectral glow of the interior of the cast-glass skin evokes the stained-glass windows of a medieval cathedral.”    –Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, May 26, 2007

Contributed by Darren Fishell (Bowdoin, ’09)