Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the undisputed masterpieces of world literature and the crowning achievement of the medieval world-view. Representing the allegorical journey of the soul through the three realms of the afterlife, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, the Comedy offers a series of vividly dramatic scenes that has ignited the imagination of artists throughout the centuries, especially the unforgettable voyage through the seven circles of Hell, where Dante with his guide Virgil hear the stories of sinners as they undergo the eternal torments of the damned.
Sandro Botticelli produced a number of exquisite silverpoint illustrations, probably commissioned by Lorenzo De Medici during the latter years of the 15th Century, however the project was never completed. William Blake taught himself Italian to be able to read the Comedy in the original and spent his final days feverishly working on a series of sublime watercolours. Gustave Dore’s sombre and majestic otherworldly etchings are probably the greatest completed visual rendition of Dante’s narrative. In the twentieth century Tom Phillips produced a unique take in his limited edition of Inferno.
Below are examples of the four artists work based around episodes set in the Inferno. I have also included Stockhausen’s Luzifers Abschied, which has to rank as the strangest, most left field, left handed experimental piece of music (or any other media, for that matter) included in Cakeland; just in case anyone wants to really immerse themselves in the infernal atmosphere of the artworks.
The elaborate and enigmatic drawings of the Milan based artist Marco Mazzoni are created entirely by coloured pencils. Drawing on Sardinian folklore of an underground matriarchal culture of witches and herbalist healers, his drawings frequently feature a female face surrounded by, (with the eyes always obscured), finely detailed studies of variegated flora and fauna. Combined with an undisputed mastery of chiaroscuro the effect is seductively disturbing with an undercurrent of bewitching danger and riotous decadence.
The paintings of contemporary Italian artist Agostino Arrivabene are grounded in the techniques of the Old Masters and inhabit the timeless realm of dreams and mythological, religious archetypes. Against a backdrop of either luminous darkness or apocalyptic landscape, figures that have haunted the collective unconscious for centuries or longer, Orpheus, Lucifer, Elizabeth Bathory, Persephone, enact sacred ritual dramas. Among the memento mori lie the possibility of transformation and metamorphosis; an actualisation of becoming.
Arrivabene cites as influences the Symbolist Gustave Moreau, the master of the Northern Renaissance Albrecht Dürer and the Neo-Baroque/Kitsch artist Odd Nerdrum. Also discernible are traces of Max Ernst’s eroding mineral frottage derived inscapes, Giger‘s spectacular visceral transfigurations and Blake‘s sheer burning visionary intensity. In keeping with the Symbolist tendency towards drawing inspiration from literature elements of Ovid, Dante and Giordano Bruno are included within the occult and occasionally infernal worlds of Arrivabene.
Below is a selection of images showcasing Arrivabene’s unique art. For a more comprehensive view please visit the artist’s website agostinoarrivabene.it. For details on the artist’s fascinating process visit the interview at the excellent Fulgur Press.
These days what’s the most we can realistically hope for but some form of ideal dystopia.
Perhaps an isolated bunker in a distant land deep beneath the surface fitted with all the conveniences that seem so essential, naturally.
We could sleep safe and soundly there and dream plastic dreams of our synthetic future as we transform into angelic androids, with our skins like vinyl that hisses and crackles when we touch, superficially smooth yet as we press harder we discover contours and grooves that activate sensations far forgotten within the soul.
We long for a fine and private place but there is none to speak of so we sneak into what passes for a sacred grove, dedicated to some degenerate local deity with one glass eye and undoubtedly an unappeasable taste for tidy hookers and neat gin.
In this dimly lit ersatz arbour made of rusting metal and fake bamboo hemmed in by tarnished mirrors we talk:
of organisms that ceaselessly duplicate;
of the next eagerly anticipated catastrophe;
of death and destruction as the ultimate spectator sport;
of the serenity to be found in surrendering to the spooked spiralling logic of paranoia;
of nightclubbing and nightcrawling;
of nocturnal emissions;
of the vicious inanity of Incubi and Succubi;
of the Latter Days of the Fourth Decadency;
of a corrosive inertia;
of ennui and entrophy;
of containment and contagion;
of chance encounters and happy accidents that lead to inevitable happy endings;
of the cellar door in The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel;
of protean cult leaders;
of clairvoyant photographers;
of a vanishing star of stage and screen;
of wandering infra dig soldiers lost in the twilighting border zone;
of standing on the threshold of a room;
of skipping a vital slowed down sleazy beat;
of nonsensical impulses and randomly compelling whims;
of waylaid emotion and contaminated intimacy;
of perverse attractions;
of dream homes and heartache;
of love and sleep.
The Melancholy Lieutenant woke up immediately when he registered the sound of a key being fitted into the lock and the scrape of the door as it grated against the cement floor. If they thought that the delay was going to make him sweat they were mistaken. He felt refreshed after his sleep and prepared for whatever fate they deigned to grant him.
Two men entered, both in plain clothes. Their superiors had probably decided to pair them up as a study in archetypal contrasts, which they had then made into their schtick, their routine. Naturally there was a squat, older harassed tough guy with the obligatory rumpled brown suit that he wore like a baggy second skin. The Melancholy Lieutenant felt he had read the script that this bad cop with the good heart beneath the gruff exterior was going to act out many times before. Of course the sleek, soft spoken and ambitious young detective, impeccably turned out in bold blue stripes would be all concern until he had found an angle into which best to turn the knife. Well let them play their little games, he thought, they will get nothing out of me because I’m keeping schtum, silent as the grave, his accent alone would give him away as a foreigner. Besides even to himself his story of parallel dimensions and vast inter-stellar conspiracies sounded like the incoherent ramblings of a deranged mind. But here he was, in this room where he shouldn’t be. But he doubted he could convince a pair of over-worked and cynical policemen the truth of the matter.
Seating himself in the chair the tough cop addressed the sleek guy who had decided to perch on the wooden table, all the better to lean over and presumably intimidate the Melancholy Lieutenant.
‘So who and what did we have here Boss?’
‘Dunno Boss, no papers, no ID card, no number, nada nowt and he’d decided to clam up whats more. We know nothing about nothing about him. Which is a little perturbing, both of us…and for himself there. I mean without any solid information we have to naturally assume the worse, don’t we Boss?’
‘Another fucking ghost then.’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Got a cigarette Boss?’
‘Sure Boss,’ said the good cop. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a gold case which he presented to the older cop all in one smooth fluid motion. He took two cigarettes out, handed one over, and then rifled through his trouser and jacket pockets before finally finding a lighter. He lit his colleague’s cigarette first before lighting his own. Both of the policemen took deep drags before directing heavy clouds of smoke into his face. The Melancholy Lieutenant remained impassive.
‘So what are we gonna do with this guy? Obviously we need to process the fucker, but as what? As an agitator, subversive or just some poor bastard down on his luck? Or did he just lose his mind out west.’
‘Well he looks and holds himself like a soldier, and an officer at that. Maybe he was exposed to the Black Acid at the front. Maybe, maybe. I wouldn’t peg him as one of Red’s, and definitely not as a Wrather, but unless we find out more we can’t ever really be sure, can we Boss? What is your famous gut telling you?’
The bad cop studied the cigarette for a while before answering. ‘My gut is telling me that it’s hungry while my brain is telling me that I am tired. Are you not going to say anything there Sonny Jim? Huuh? What you say and do in this room could decide your entire future. So what’s it going to be, boy?’
The Melancholy Lieutenant didn’t move a muscle and kept staring into the middle distance, though he was worried that the gathering heavy silence would galvanise them into action. Although he was trained and held the necessary detachment to resist speaking out under torture, it was something he obviously wanted to avoid if at all possible.
‘So be it then, ‘the smooth operator said and stood up from the table, squaring himself up. ‘I think we need to show him who’s the boss, don’t we Boss?’
‘Ah hold on there Boss. Let’s not be too hasty. I got a feeling inside that we have to be careful, a wrong decision may come back to haunt us; bite us in the ass big time. We still have hundreds to process yet and of all the people we have seen so far this bastard looks most likely to have connections. He isn’t your run of the mill agitator anyway. Besides I think he realises who’s the boss.’
‘O.K Boss,’ he said relaxing and standing down.
‘So where are we going to process him then Boss?’
‘Chosher Fastness I suppose, the catatonic ward seems about right for this bleeding phantom.’
‘Yeah, a better class of loony up there.’
‘Officer class mental cases.’
‘Good monitoring as well.’
‘We can see how he responses to the presence of certain problematic inmates.’
‘Decided then boss.’
‘Yes no doubt. Call up the McNally boyos and get him loaded up into the van.’
‘Can’t wait to be shot of this one, let him become somebody else’s problem instead of ours.’
‘I’m with you on that Boss.’
‘Ah well, on to the next one.’
‘Never fucking stops does it?’
‘No and it never will either Boss.’