- Museum number
Dante and Virgil with Count Ugolino; a man at left holding down another man with hands tied behind his back, Dante and Virgil standing at right looking down at him
Verso: Sketch of parts of two figures
Popham & Pouncey 1950
On the verso, covered by the mount, is part of a large, roughly drawn circle, within which, on the extreme edge of the sheet, parts of two figures are indicated (on a somewhat smaller scale in relation to the enclosing circle than the figures on the recto are to theirs); one of them stands bending forward and holding what appears to be the head of the other. Outside the circle is a small, comparatively careful, drawing of a knobbly object which might be a rock or even a cloud, with a long thin shadow below it. The scene on the recto is certainly that described in the 'Inferno' (xxxii, 124-39, xxxiii, 1-90), in which Count Ugolino, pointing to the half-eaten head of Archbishop Ruggieri, relates his story to Dante and Virgil.
- Production date
- 1456-1523 (circa)
Height: 312 millimetres
Width: 256 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Drawing possibly connected with the monochrome scenes in the Cappella Nuova (now called the chapel of the Madonna di S. Brizio) in the Duomo at Orvieto, painted by Signorelli 1499-1504. Curiously, it illustrates a scene from Dante's 'Inferno' (canto XXXII, lines 124-139), whereas the other monochrome scenes from Dante in the chapel come from the 'Purgatorio'. It is possible that this sheet was drawn for a programme from the 'Inferno' that was never executed; Dugald McLellan has suggested that the subject matter may have been too sensitive for the Orvietan patrons.
Watermark: a star above encircled scales.
Lit: B. Berenson, 'The Drawings of the Florentine Painters', Chicago, 1938, II, pp. 332-33, no. 2509E-3; A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, 'Italian drawings in the BM, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries', London, 1950, I, no. 241, II, pl. CCIV (with previous literature); D. McLellan, 'Luca Signorelli's Last Judgement Fresco Cycle at Orvieto: An Interpretation of the Fears and Hopes of the Comune and People of Orvieto at a Time of Reckoning', PhD. diss., Melbourne, 1992, pp. 209-10; C. Van Cleave, 'Luca Signorelli as a Draughtsman', unpublished D.Phil. diss., Oxford, 1995, pp. 136-37, no. 17 (with further literature); Idem., "Signorelli Disegnatore" and cat. entry, in 'Luca Signorelli', exh. cat., Perugia, Orvieto and Città di Castello, 2012, p. 328, no. 72.
This drawing was issued as a coloured facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters in the British Museum', Part II, Published by the Trustees, in 1891 where it was number V and described there as 'Luca Signorelli, Sketch for an Illustration to Dante.'
Popham & Pouncey 1950
The drawing is generally connected with the monochrome scenes, many of them circular, in the chapel of the Madonna di S. Brizio in the Duomo at Orvieto, which Signorelli agreed to decorate on 27 Apr. 1500.
The scheme of the whole chapel is far from clear. The identity of the portrait heads in the squares is uncertain, apart from that of Dante himself. Some of the others wear laurel-wreaths, and are consequently supposed to be the classic poets mentioned by Dante; while the small scenes in the roundels and oblongs are interpreted—in many cases unconvincingly—as illustrations to their works. All those eleven scenes which can be definitely identified as illustrating Dante are from the 'Purgatorio'; this would seem to rule out any definite connection between our drawing and this particular series. But alterations to the chapel have destroyed at least three of the scenes; one of the surviving scenes (K. der K. 114, top) shows winged and horned demons scourging prostrate figures, which suggests Dante rather than any classical poet, and the 'Inferno' rather than the 'Purgatorio'; and the scenes on K. der K. 113 seem to be from Ovid, a poet who is mentioned only in the 'Inferno' (iv, 90 and xxv, 97). It does not, therefore, seem altogether out of the question that a scene from the 'Inferno' may have been projected as part of this scheme, even if it was not actually executed.
Clark objects that the figures in our drawing are on a larger scale in relation to the circle than are those in the frescoes; but the figures on the verso, which probably represent the same incident, are on a somewhat smaller scale. Whether Berenson is justified in assuming from the elongation and distortion of the figures that they are of later date than the Orvieto frescoes seems to us doubtful.
This drawing was in the exhibition at Grasmere in 2007, 'Dante Rediscovered.' The following text is taken from the exhibition catalogue, cat no.11, and provides further information regarding the drawing;
This drawing appears to show not Ugolino's imprisonment but the encounter of Dante and Virgil with Ugolino in the ninth circle, where he was engaged in gnawing the skull of the Archbishop Ruggieri to which he is pointing. Signorelli was the author of the most extensive series of wall paintings of Dante and Dantesque subjects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in the Cappella Nuova or chapel of the Madonna di S.Brizio in Orvieto Cathedral of c.1500. There is no comparable scene from the Inferno in the chapel, but a small number of the Dante roundels (a roughly drawn circular line encloses the figures in the drawing) have been destroyed, and in any case he might have projected a group of Inferno scenes but not executed them. The drawing belonged to two artists featured in this exhibition, Joshua Reynolds and William Young Ottlety. It is not known whether the former owned it before painting his scene of Ugolino, see cat.14 of this catalogue, also in the British Museum collection, see 2006,U.344.
Literature: BB 2509E-3; Grosvenor Gallery Winter Exhibition, 1877/8, no. 770; B.M. Reproductions, ii (1891), v; B.M. Guides, 1891, no. 30, and 1895, no. 89; O. Fischel, Dante und die Künstler, Berlin, 1921, pl. 13; K. C(lark), Vasari Society, Second Series, xi (1930), 4.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', No. 126
1990, BM, no catalogue
1978, BM, Gainsborough and Reynolds in the BM, cat no 201
1998/9 Nov-Jan, London, National Gallery, 'Signorelli'
2007 Aug-Nov, Grasmere, Dove Cottage, 'Dante Rediscovered'
2012 Apr-Aug, Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria. 'Luca Signorelli'.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Thibaudeau acted as an agent for the British Museum at the Russell sale in December 1884, see 1885,0509.1574-1607. Some of the other drawings Thibaudeau purchased at the same sale were subsequently sold to the British Museum in 1885; see 1885,0509.33-51 and 1885,0711.271-303.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number