return to image index search the collection



Dante's Commedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All, & the Goddess Nature is his Inspirer & not Imagination...

Blake, Annotations to Dante illustrations (1825-27)

In the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia) Dante narrates the story of his journey out of the dark forest where he found himself in the middle of his life. With the Roman poet Virgil as guide he travels through Hell (Inferno) and Purgatory before finally reaching Paradise. The Inferno is described as a conical structure with successive circles, each reserved for particular categories of sinners. Purgatory is a mountain, on top of which is the Earthly Paradise where Dante finally meets his beloved Beatrice. Dante completed the Divine Comedy shortly before his death in 1321. It is one of the great texts of European culture and continues to inspire artists.

Blake's watercolour illustrations were commissioned in 1824 by John Linnell, friend and patron of his last years. They were executed at a time when Dante's masterpiece was being made more widely known through translation and critical re-evaluation. Henry Cary's first complete translation was published in 1814 and Blake owned a copy of it. He also taught himself Italian in order to be able to read the original. In the late 18th century the sublime and terrible passages of the Inferno were illustrated and singled out for praise, however, by the 1820s a new appreciation of the beauties of Purgatory, and especially Paradise, had emerged. Blake's originality as an illustrator of the Divine Comedy lies in his literary and visionary approach to the text. One of the ways he maintains a continuity of narrative throughout the series is by consistently showing Dante dressed in red (denoting experience) and Virgil in blue (denoting the spirit). Between 1824 and 1827, when he died, Blake completed 102 watercolours which survive in varying stages of completion. He intended to engrave the series - as Flaxman had done with his illustrations in the early 1800s - but managed to partially complete only seven plates.


Dante Running from the Three Beasts

The Vestibule of Hell and the Souls Mustering to Cross the Acheron



The Goddess of Fortune

The Stygian Lake with the Ireful Sinners Fighting

The Angel Crossing the Styx

The Angel at the Gate of Dis

The Hell-Hounds Hunting the Destroyers of Their Own Goods

Capaneus the Blasphemer

The Symbolic Figure of the Course of Human History Described by Virgil.

Geryon Conveying Dante and Virgil Down Towards Malebolge

The Necromancers and Augurs

The Devil Carrying the Lucchese Magistrate to the Boiling-Pitch Pool of Corrupt Officials

The Devils Under the Bridge

The Devils Setting Out With Dante and Virgil

The Thieves and Serpents

Vanni Fucci 'Making Figs' Against God

The Six-Footed Serpent Attacking Agnello dei Brunelleschi

Ulysses and Diomed Swathed in the Same Flame

The Schismatics and Sowers of Discord: Mahomet

The Schismatics and Sowers of Discord: Mosca de' Lamberti and Bertrand de Born

The Pit of Disease: Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha

Ephialtes and Two Other Titans

Antaeus Setting Down Dante and Virgil in the Last Circle of Hell


The Rest on the Mountain Leading to Purgatory

The Souls of Those Who Only Repented at the Point of Death

The Lawn with the Kings and Angels

The Angel Inviting Dante to Enter the Fire

Dante at the Moment of Entering the Fire

The Harlot and the Giant

Dante adoring Christ

St. Peter Appears to Beatrice and Dante

St Peter, Beatrice and Dante with St James

The Queen of Heaven in Glory

The Circle of the Lustful, Paolo and Francesca

The Circle of the Corrupt Officials. The Devils Tormenting Ciampolo

The Circle of the Corrupt Officials. The Devils Mauling Each Other

The Circle of the Thieves. Agnello dei Brunelleschi Attacked by a Six-footed Serpent

The Circle of the Thieves. Buoso dei Donati Attacked by the Serpent

Circle of the Falsifiers. Dante and Virgil Covering Their Noses Because of the Stench

The Circle of the Traitors. Dante's Foot Striking Bocca degli Abbati


(c)1999 National Gallery of Victoria