Dante’s influence on Botticelli’s Chart of Hell

18 Oct

Sandro Botticelli (1445- 1510) was an Italian painter of the Florentine school.  He lived during the early Renaissance, yet his paintings were influenced by the two- dimensional Gothic art style.  At a young age Botticelli picked up a unique style with his fusion of the Medieval linear and Renaissance three- dimensional style that led to some of his famous artworks such as Adoration of the Magi and The Birth of Venus. However, the Renaissance rejected these styles of Gothic art and this technique died with Botticelli until it was revived during the second half of the 19th century.

Compared to the other artist during the Renaissance, he was well educated, but was also interested in the Middle Ages, especially Dante’s Divine Comedy.  He was so interested in this work of literature that he wrote a commentary over portions of Dante and illustrated Dante’s Inferno in his paintings.  He spent so much of his time studying the Divine Comedy that he suffered from disorders during his lifetime from lack of work and deteriorated over the obsessions of Dante.  His masterpiece from Dante’ Inferno, known as the Chart of Hell, with its peculiar painting method, stands as one of the most fascinating representation of Hell ever seen.

Chart of Hell

Painted during c. 1480- 1495, the Chart of Hell visualized Botticelli’s imagination of Dante’s Inferno. In this painting, the descriptions of Hell was illustrated through the nine circles where souls are tortured for eternity.  However, Botticelli incorporated more details based on the literal texts of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Here, the ring system was preemminent, but seemed to spiral down in comparison to a tornado whirling towards the center of wickedness.  The circles symbolized the cyclical aspects of existence where these condemned souls are trapped and tortured for eternity imprisoned between all time and place forbidden from paradise, where they must and always will suffer the second death.  The center where all the sins cascaded down differentiated from the rest, with the ring of Treachery where Lake Cocytus trapped Satan as the centerpiece instead of being fix in the background.  This seemed to indicate Botticelli’s parody of Lucifer as the supreme being of the netherworld, as opposed to the Supreme Trinity reigning in Heaven prevalent in Medieval art.  In addition, Botticelli included Dante’s sense of the descent to the blind world by showing staircases that were only reserved for the wanderer who lost his clear path during the journey of life to help him avoid damnation and find salvation by the witness of other’s dead ends.  This journey of Dante in Botticelli’s opinion symbolized the paradox that one must see the future in order to fix the past.

Sandro Botticelli.  Wikipedia Foundation, Inc.  2010. Oct. 17, 2010.

The World of Dante.  Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities, University of Virginia.  2008.  Oct. 17, 2010.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Dante


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One response to “Dante’s influence on Botticelli’s Chart of Hell

  1. Ashley

    October 25, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Is the original of Botticelli’s “Chart of Hell” still exist, and if so, where is it located?
    Are there copies of “Dante’s Inferno” published today with Botticelli’s commentary in them?


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