Map of Hell. Illustration for the "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri

Sandro Botticelli • Drawings and illustrations, 1488, 33×47.5 cm
$54.00
Digital copy: 2.1 MB
2735 × 1910 px • JPEG
47.5 × 33 cm • 146 dpi
46.3 × 32.3 cm • 150 dpi
23.2 × 16.2 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Literary scene
Style of art: Renaissance
Materials: Parchment
Date of creation: 1488
Size: 33×47.5 cm
Location: Vatican Library
Artwork in selections: 18 selections
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Description of the artwork «Map of Hell. Illustration for the "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri»

Sandro Botticelli and Dante Alighieri are linked by a common thread through history. The Renaissance artist was fascinated by the author of The Divine Comedy, who lived two centuries earlier. It is thought that Botticelli was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, nicknamed Popolano, one of the powerful Medici family, to illustrate the literary work. The drawings took many years to complete and revealed Botticelli's extraordinary sensitivity and intimate knowledge of Dante's poem.

Although by the end of the fifteenth century the printed book had quickly supplanted the traditional and very expensive illustrated manuscripts, the greatest bibliophiles still ordered them. Botticelli used the technique of silver needlepoint to make his drawings and most of them remain unfinished. A number of the illustrations are drawn in ink, but only four pages have full colour in tempera (1, 2).

One of those drawings "Map of Hell."a visual representation of the afterlife. Many art historians agree that this is one of Botticelli's most impressive works. Hell is represented here as an inverted cone full of bloody detail. In the Commedia, Dante tells us that it arose when God threw down Lucifer to the Earth. The latter, as the source of Evil, is located in the center of the Earth - at the farthest point from the Creator. In the circles of the afterlife, sinners atone for their crimes, and the artist is incredibly detailed depicts their anguish. He became particularly interested in this subject in the latter years of his life, under the influence of the fanatical preacher Girolamo Savonarola. Girolamo was the de facto ruler of Florence from 1494 to 1498, and Botticelli suffered a deep personal and spiritual crisis under the influence of his preaching, which also influenced his visual interpretation of Dante's Inferno.

In his text, the poet left clues by which one can calculate the date of his journey to Hell. The poem itself begins with the words "Having walked halfway through life on earth..." - evidence that Dante was 35 years old. He believed that people live for 70 years, as recorded in Psalm 89 ("The days of our years are seventy years, and with greater fortress, eighty years.") and marked the middle of his life. The author was born in 1265, so the action takes place in 1300. Further astronomical "clues" scattered throughout the work suggest that the hero descends into the underworld on Good Friday evening, that is, from April 7 to 8.

Many of Botticelli's predecessors decorated manuscripts of the Divine Comedy, but it is his drawings that are rich in detail and follow Dante's epic exceptionally closely. "The Map of Hell" is a multi-layered image of horror and suffering. The avaricious are forced to push heavy stones forever, the angry and sullen are trapped forever in the murky waters of the Styx, and heretics are devoured by purifying fire. They are guarded on all sides by a multitude of demons.

The exact date of the illustrations is unknown and is still the subject of scholarly debate. Scholars consider Botticelli to have worked on them for several years and give two the most probable periods as ranging from the mid 1480s to around the following decade or between 1480 and 1505. Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco was arrested in 1501 on suspicion of treason against the Republic and died in custody in August 1503. Botticelli never finished the work.

Ninety-two parchments with drawings are now known to exist. Eighty-five of them were discovered at the end of the 19th century in the collection of the Duke of Hamilton. In 1882, Friedrich Lippmann, director of the Gravure Office in Berlin, acted quickly and quietly to buy all the plates for the collection of his museum. The announcement of the sale sparked protests in the British press and parliament, but the deal could not be annulled.

Soon afterwards it became known that another eight drawings from the same manuscript were in the Vatican library. They had previously belonged to a Swedish to Queen Cristinaand after her death in Rome in 1689 were purchased by Pope Alexander VIII. These include the "Map of Hell".

The timing of the separation of these pages is unknown. For the first time in centuries, fragile works from Berlin and the Vatican came together in 2000-2001 in an exhibition that toured the German capital, Rome and London. It was accompanied by an album where each drawing is reproduced in splendid quality. Eight essays on Botticelli, the Medici and the Divine Comedy round out the book.

Author: Vlad Maslov
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