COVID-19 and Dante’s Inferno

“Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is undeniably a timeless classic. Its grand adventure through the nine gates of hell sparks readers with life and interest. It seems like an out-of-place work for a description of our chaotic times, but I believe it is a lot more relatable to us than we might think in the most unlikely of ways. So what can readers take from this classic besides grand allusions to the past?

“Perhaps it is with the old that we can come to better understand the new. Perhaps we can come to a new perspective on the world and its isolated communication due to COVID-19 through this classic. Much like we are now, venturing alone except through the cyberways of technological communication or daily filial visits, Dante with his guide Virgil treaded a path of darkness to the center of hell to understand and experience the dark side of the world. We too traverse a pathway of ‘hell’ not a literal one, of course, but rather a figurative pathway of undiscovered and problematic turmoil for the human condition.”   –Jayden Montalvo, Johns Hopkins Newsletter, 2020

Read the full article here.

Rauschenberg’s Dante in the Time of Pandemic

robert-rauschenberg-modern-inferno

“Dante’s three-part epic poem portrays the journey souls take after death. Essentially a socio-economic commentary on Florentine life, with strong moral undertones and focus on the human condition, its themes can be adapted to any time. Today, in the face of Covid-19, the 700-year-old Commedia resonates strongly. Now is a perfect time to reflect on the work through its visual depictions. Although countless artists have illustrated the work since its medieval publication – Sandro Botticelli, Gustave Doré, and John Flaxman, to name a few – modern artists have shown how its relevance lives on to this day. Perhaps the most progressive modern rendering of Dante’s epic to date is seen through the work of artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).

“Dante is ambiguous in his writing on the Sodomites, reflecting the reticence surrounding the subject of homosexuality in his day. Rauschenberg mirrors this ambiguity in his illustration with an empty speech bubble beneath a red outline of his own traced foot. The tracing inserts Rauschenberg into the narrative just as Dante the Poet occasionally appears in the text, separate from Dante the Pilgrim, a personal touch that is seldom seen in Commedia illustrations.” [. . .]    —Flora Igoe, The Art Story Blog, 2020

See Rauschenberg’s full Inferno series here.

 

Ying Zheng, poetry (2020)


Out of the Ante-Inferno
After Gustave Doré’s Charon, the Ferryman of Hell

Fear not the wrath of God!
Those who are beckoned here
Know better than to comply.

Below the sullen skies,
Where stars hardly survive,
Stand pale precipices

Guarding the dim muzzle
Of a deadly, sodden
Passage, and listening

To it ceaselessly burp,
Bellow, bawl, and belch
Out a whirl of white spume.

Forward! Forward! The oar
That no one can wrench free
From his grip grunts and gasps,

[…]

Read the full poem here, along with two others: “Inferno” and “Dante and Beatrice.”

Ying Zheng was born and grew up in Shanxi, China, where she received her first Master’s degree from Shanxi University, and has since been working for the English Department of Taiyuan Normal University. In 2019, she earned her second Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, England. While in Lancaster, she had the privilege of studying a module on “Visualising the Poem” under Professor Paul Farley. Under the guidance of Dr. Eoghan Walls, her first poetry tutor and mentor, she completed a portfolio of ekphrastic poetry mainly based on visual arts on the subject of Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedy. Currently she is pursuing PhD studies at Renmin University of China, Beijing, China. In a recent national creative writing competition held by Sun Yat-Sen University, she won the second prize with her poem “The Heavily Armoured Eyes.”

Evil (S01E07), CBS

CBS-Evil-Season1-Episode7-Herbers-Mandvi-Colter

Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“In the television show Evil (2019, CBS) in Season 1, Episode 7, the main character receives a drawing in a journal given to her daughter by a demon, and the drawing is a sigil ‘from’ the Lesser Key of Solomon. When they research the sigil, they find it represents a demon called ‘Anatas’ who the show explains as a king of demons. While researching, they show multiple plates from the Doré illustrations from Dante’s Inferno. It is worth noting, however, that while the Lesser Key of Solomon is a real document, the symbols from the show are not exactly the same as the ones from the document, and the Lesser Key of Solomon was written after Dante’s time.”   –Contributor Alex Lee

See a recap of the episode on TV Guide‘s website.

Contributed by Robert (Alex) Lee (Florida State University ’21)

“Catholic Sculptor Re-Creating Dante’s Divine Comedy Aims to Shift the Emphasis off Hell”

“In preparation for the 700th anniversary of the death of medieval poet Dante Alighieri, a Canadian artist is creating a sculptural tribute to his Divine Comedy that would be the first sculptural rendition of the entire poem.

‘In our culture Dante is becoming lost,’ said sculptor Timothy Schmalz in an interview with Religion News Service on Monday (July 20).

Not only is Dante less and less required reading, Schmalz said, but his Divine Comedy is often misrepresented by putting the focus only on the first part — the descriptions of hell and its fiery punishments.

[. . .]

There are 100 cantos in the poem, which have previously been represented in etchings and drawings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli, Gustave Doré and William Blake, but Schmalz would be the first to represent the full poem through sculpture.

‘I realized why it hasn’t been done before,’ he said. ‘It’s so much work.'”    –Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service, July 21, 2020

Tedua, Vita Vera Mixtape (2020)

Italian rapper Tedua’s 2020 album Vita Vera Mixtape features a Doré-inspired cover. The track “Mare Mosso” (featuring Bresh, produced by Garelli) opens with a reference the first canto:

“Mi ritrovai in una selva oscura, scura
E non sapevo più nulla, nulla
Perdonerai chi in amore ti trascura, scusa
Ma infondo già lo sai
Restar da solo può fare più paura
Vorrei prendermi del tempo per me
Vorrei metterti nel letto perché
Vorrei chiederti se ancora provi le emozioni
Di quei giorni e come autori
Mi racconti le tue storie o vuoi tenerle per te?”

In an interview in Corriere della Sera, Tedua had this to say about his relationship to Dante: “Il concetto sarà chiaro con l’album, il terzo della mia carriera. Questo è uno spoiler per tenere alta l’attenzione del pubblico. Non sarà però una tesina su Dante: non ho la competenza culturale dei classicisti, sarà il mio racconto.” Il Sommo Poeta sarà la terza incarnazione del rapper, nei panni di DanTedua. “Amo metafore e allegorie: aiutano molto a dare una linea a tutto il progetto.”

[. . .]

“Con Dante affronterò il percorso all’interno della società borghese per analizzarne pregi e difetti, ipocrisie e contraddizioni. L’artista quando diventa famoso entra in contatto con i borghesi ma per non perdersi nella selva oscura e tornare a vedere le stelle deve rimanere se stesso, purezza e verità.”   –Tedua with Andrea Laffranchi, “Tedua, rap vincente: «Musica di strada pensando a Dante»,” Corriere della sera (June 25, 2020)

Contributed by Alex Basili (MA, Florida State University ’22)

Bob Cimbalo at Other Side

“The Other Side, the neighbor and partner of South Utica’s popular Café Domenico, is currently hosting a ‘damned’ good show: a series of paintings depicting scenes from the Inferno, the first volume of the celebrated trilogy by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri.

The poem is organized into 34 cantos or chapters, and it describes the (fictional) journey Dante took through hell, his first stop on a three-volume tour of eternity that eventually landed him in paradise.

Bob Cimbalo, one of the region’s most accomplished artists, created one very engaging painting for each of Dante’s 34 Inferno cantos — an impressive artistic feat now on display for the first time in many years.

[. . .]

In Cimbalo’s depiction, the leaden cloaks of the hypocrites are strikingly stiff and angular, which to my eye immediately makes them look like they’re fashioned of metal— in contrast to other depictions of this scene, including one by the famous illustrator Gustave Doré, whose cloaks of these damned look much more like ordinary cloth. In Cimbalo’s depiction, you immediately sense the weight they’re carrying, even before you know what his painting is meant to depict.”    –Phil Bean, Observer Dispatch, March 16, 2020

Inferno Pop-up Book by Massimo Missiroli, with Paolo Rambelli (2020)

La Divina Commedia, composta da Dante Alighieri nei primi vent’anni del XIV secolo, è universalmente ritenuta una delle più grandi opere della letteratura di tutti i tempi. Le illustrazioni per la Commedia di Gustave Dorè sono divenute un riferimento iconografico imprescindibile non solo per i lettori successivi di Dante ma per tutti coloro che hanno cercato di trasporlo sul grande schermo.

“Per la prima volta Dante e Dorè diventano ora protagonisti di un libro pop-up – cioè di ciò che è più vicino alla dinamicità del cinema pur conservando la forma base del libro – grazie all’opera di uno dei più apprezzati paper engineer a livello internazionale: Massimo Missiroli. Il cartotecnico italiano, già vincitore del Premio Andersen nel 2001 e candidato al premio Meggendorfer nel 2004, ha infatti realizzato, in collaborazione con Paolo Rambelli dell’Università di Bologna per la parte testuale, una straordinaria versione pop-up dell’Inferno Dantesco, sfruttando per ogni illustrazione una diversa tecnica di sviluppo verticale delle figure, così da rinnovare ad ogni pagina lo stupore per la capacità evocativa del capolavoro dedicato da Dorè al capolavoro di Dante.

“Un’opera unica ed originale che i collezionisti di pop-up, così come gli amanti di Dante e di Dorè non possono non possedere.”  — Project Website

See a prototype of the pop-up book on YouTube (last accessed May 24, 2020).

To help fund the project, visit the Kickstarter page (expires June 21, 2020).

Dave Sim’s Cerebus in Hell? (2017)

“The first new Cerebus comic since 2004! Where has Cerebus been since he died twelve years ago? Is he in hell? Purgatory? Limbo?”    — Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, June 22, 2016

Check out Dave Sim’s Doré-inspired 2017 Cerebus in Hell? here.

To read about the controversy surrounding the title (“Cerebus” vs. “Cerberus”), see Rich Johnston’s blogposts here and here.

“Visions of Hell: Dark Souls cultural heritage”

“It’s hard to place a finger on the most recognizable reference to Gustave Doré’s incredible illustrations in the Dark Souls series. The artist, who in a short 50 year life span produced over 100,000 pieces, and illustrated many of the great works of world literature, haunts many a crooked corner of Lordran, Drangleic, and Lothric. Flicking through his illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s great masterwork The Divine Comedy (1320), it is impossible not to be reminded of the landscapes and demons of Dark Souls. On top of a sheer rock wall we see a clutch of figures, huddled like the Deacons of the Dark. In a shallow pool lie piles of corpses, twisted into an inseparable mess, like the horrible sights that await in the drained ruins of New Londo. The great king Nimrod chained, now a giant and no longer a man, echoes the lost ruler of Drangleic. It is no surprise that it is the first book of The Divine Comedy, Inferno, depicting Dante’s journey through hell, that brings us these images. Doré’s bleak, stony, and understated depictions of Satan’s kingdom so strongly contrasted with decades of medieval hellfire that had gone before. They are powerfully mythic images, ones that have been reached for again and again by artists in search of the power of the dark.

“Though iconic now, the success of Inferno was never assured. Many of Doré’s supporters called it too ambitious and too expensive a project, and so, in 1861, driven by his passion for the source material he funded its publication himself. His risk paid off, and the volume and its subsequent sister volumes Purgatorio and Paradiso, depicting purgatory and Heaven respectively, became his most notable works. A critic at the time of its publication wrote that the illustrations were so powerful that both Dante and Doré must have been ‘communicating by occult and solemn conversations the secret of this Hell plowed by their souls, traveled, explored by them in every sense.’ This plumbing of the depths of despair in search of beauty is the true thematic link between these illustrations and Dark Souls art. Like the monsters of Kuniyoshi, in Doré we don’t just see the aesthetic roots of Dark Souls, we see its themes—the concepts of loss, despair, and the allure of the occult sketched out in chiaroscuro black-and-white.” [. . .]    –Gareth Damian Martin, Kill Screen, May 11, 2016.