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.
Forever the sensualist, pursuing the pleasures
Of the flesh and the transitory moment,
Every passing chance and fleeting lust
With your oh-so debonair, cavalier
Devil-may-care-can-take-me tomorrow attitude,
Never paying heed, feckless and reckless
Following every bizarre whim and contrary impulse.
You never know why you are the way you are,
Though upon any given day you may blame
The father for passing on his rogue genes
Designed to self-destruct whenever
You gain an instant of clarity and collected calm,
Or the mother for expelling you from the Eden
Of the womb into this world of sorrow and woe.
But why stop there, surely the impersonal God
In the vast unreachable fortress of the Heavens
Deserves a share for even thinking and therefore
Emanating all the demiurges and demons
To fashion this perfectly flawed creation
With its built-in obsolescent as the unique selling point
Yes the guilt and the shame has to be theirs
For the urges that you always have to act on
Regardless of consequences and the possibility
Of a whole universe of hurt and pain
But can anyone take the weight of such responsibility?
At times like this, better to drink deeply
And gamble on the possibility of redemption,
Within her encircling arms lies salvation
The pressure of her hand on your thigh
Hints at an all-encompassing bliss
An unsurpassed re-capturing of the holy moment
If only she holds on tight and doesn’t hold back
You could die right now looking into her eyes
But one moment escapes into the next
And this night, like all nights, has to end:
The sun breaks the magic circle
Ending the eclipsing spell
Returning you to the sleazy here and now,
The dishevelled bed in this pallid light
In this foetid atmosphere heavy with sex
With the bitter taste of a fulfilled desire
Turning heavy and cold in your mouth.
The time is now, I think,
Tomorrow has come
Your party is over
That race has been run
You sinned in such haste
Time now to repent
At, of course, your leisure
For Hell is forever.
A supremely thought provoking and troubling philosophical painting by the Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte. We are presented with a meretriciously drawn image of a pipe while beneath the neat legend paradoxically informs us that Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). It seems that before us is less a painting than another one of Magritte’s monstrously banal, and ultimately terrifying, pictorial mysteries.
The pipe drawn with such painstaking exactitude is of course just a representation of a pipe. You cannot hold in your hands, stuff it with tobacco and smoke it, which is surely what is required of a pipe for it to be a pipe. Yet we feel perplexed and somehow obscurely cheated. If it the case that ‘perception always intercedes between reality and ourselves’, then all we can know are images of the world, and images are by their very nature treacherous. All we have is the map, and as everyone knows, the map is not the territory.