- Museum number
One of the preliminary sketches for "Compositions from The Hell, Purgatory and Paradise of Dante Alighieri", illustration to Dante's 'Paradiso", Canto III; Dante and Beatrice standing amid a world of stars and looking on that of the Empress Costanza who appears in the midst of its light kneeling. 1792-1807
Pen and grey ink
- Production date
Height: 132 millimetres
Width: 188 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- In 1792, whilst on his seven-year sojourn in Italy, Flaxman was commissioned by the art collector and connoisseur Thomas Hope to produce 109 illustrations of Dante's "Divine Comedy" to be engraved. Concurrently Flaxman was commissioned and worked on illustrations for Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" (see 1888,0503.8) by other important patrons. The latter works were by far both the most lucrative and significant for Flaxman's immediate status, as Hope commissioned the Dante illustrations for his own private consumption. He had the drawings bound as a volume and the engravings, by Tommaso Piroli, circulated only within a very limited group of his friends and acquaintances. By contrast the Homer illustrations were published publicly first in Italy in 1793, the "Iliad" in England in 1795 and new editions of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey", with an additional new eleven plates between them, in England in 1805. Hope later sold Piroli's copper plates of the Dante engravings to the publisher Longman & Co in 1807 who then printed and publicly circulated an English edition.
Flaxman's Dante illustrations, and Hope's taste in commissioning them, is particularly noticeable given the lack of interest in Dante and medieval authors during the eighteenth century. Classical authors, such as Homer, were infinitely more well-known and appreciated. Indeed the quotations inscribed by Flaxman under the drawings came from Henry Boyd's very recent - 1785 - full English translation of the "Divine Comedy", which was only the second of its kind. The general dismissal of Dante that had previously prevailed meant that Flaxman had very little in the way of visual precedents to follow, meaning that he had to rely heavily on his imagination and power and invention. Thus his "Divine Comedy" drawings are especially original in his body of illustrative work. According to a contemporaneous letter written by Flaxman's wife, a French artist who saw some of the Dante drawings in Flaxman's Italian lodgings described them as "Angelesque", meaning that he thought them evoking the style of the early-fifteenth-century Italian painter Fra Angelico (Quoted in Bentley, 1991, pp. 658-664).
As is the case with the majority of Flaxman's series of drawings, those for the "Divine Comedy" are widely dispersed. There is sketchbook consisting of drawings for the "Inferno" (the first book of the "Divine Comedy") at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The finished drawings for the entirety of the "Divine Comedy" (111 drawings in total in grey ink) are bound in an album with the Hope crest in the Houghton Library, Harvard College Library.
This drawing shows the influence of early Italian art in the monumentality of the figures - Dante especially - and the schematic draperies. This drawing of the apparation of the blessed shows more lights and is more compex than the final engraving, which is much simplified.
This composition engraved by Piroli and published May 1st, 1807, London, from drawings in the possession of Thomas Hope, 1793. Additionally, the figures of Dante and Beatrice were used by Flaxman for an illustration to Canto V, ("The Planet Mercury") also engraved by Thomas Piroli.
Literature: David Irwin, 'John Flaxman, R.A. 1755-1826', 1979, pp. 94-106.
David Bindman, ed., 'John Flaxman, R.A.', 1979, pp. 98-99.
G.E. Bentley, 'Flaxman in Italy: A Letter Reflecting the Anni Mirabiles, 1792-93', The Art Bulletin, 63 (1991) pp. 658-664.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1977/8 Oct-Jan, Hamburg, Kunsthalle, 'Flaxman', no. 305
2007 Aug-Nov, Grasmere, Dove Cottage, 'Dante Rediscovered'
2015 July-Sep, BM, 'Unity and Simplicity: Neoclassicism in Europe'.
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Compositions from the Hell, Purgatory and Paradise of Dante Alighieri
Associated Title: Paradiso
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number