Research by Minji Kang and Jean-Sébastien Deshaies-Massarelli.
This first room, Inferno, depicts Dalí’s interpretation of Hell as imagined by Dante. Here, we, as viewers, are taken on a journey with Dante and his guide Virgil through the 9 circles of hell. As we descend through the circles, we are met with mythological creatures, monsters, and the souls of sinners, condemned to suffer for eternity below the surface of the Earth for the sins they have committed during their mortal lives.
Virgil Consoles Dante (Canto II, Inferno)
This painting marks us, the viewers, as well as Dante’s starting point in the journey through the three realms of the afterlife. Here, we see Dante (cloaked in red on the left) and his guide Virgil (on the right). Virgil, the famed Ancient Roman poet, is the guiding figure who takes us and Dante through the depths of hell and purgatory. Dalí presents Virgil as a feminine figure in this painting. This is meant to visually signify Virgil’s connection to Beatrice, Dante’s muse & lover, as Virgil is sent by Beatrice to guide Dante through his journey through hell and purgatory on her behalf.
Charon and the Crossing of the Acheron (Canto III, Inferno)
To cross the threshold of Hell, according to the map of the underworld, spirits must first pass through the river Acheron. In this painting, we see Charon, the carrier of souls who transports souls to the world of the dead, taking Dante and Virgil across the river. This crossing of the river officially marks our entrance into the Underworld.
In Dark Limbo (Canto IV, Inferno)
Here we enter the first circle of Hell: Limbo. Limbo holds righteous souls who have died before baptism, and those who hail from non-Christian cultures. The souls here are not punished directly but are condemned to suffer from desiring the ascent into Paradise through salvation. Here, we see a mass of bodies intertwined with one another, sprawled in various positions which seem to portray various states of desire and suffering, reflecting the fate of those stranded in Limbo
Minos (Canto V, Inferno)
At the centre of this painting stands the guardian and judge of the second circle of Hell, Minos. Once the King of Crete, he now sits upon the second circle of hell with a snake-like tail. All condemned souls are assigned their punishments by Minos, who wraps his tail around his body to indicate the numbered circle each sinner is banished to.
Cerberus (Canto VI, Inferno)
Here, we see Dalí depicting the monster guarding the third circle, Cerberus. Cerberus, as according to Ancient Greek myth, is a three-headed dog, and is seen in the Divine Comedy guarding over gluttonous souls. Here, we see the beast in its full majesty, towering over Dante, who looks on in fear.
The Avaricious and the Prodigals (Canto VII, Inferno)
We arrive at the fifth circle of hell here, which is inhabited by the avaricious (greedy individuals) and the prodigals (reckless and excessive spenders). The sinners are condemned to roll giant boulders and clash against one another. Here, Dalí paints a pair of intertwined, both struggling to hold up a boulder. This is a stark representation of the fate that the souls in the fifth circle are faced with.
The Irascibles (Canto VII, Inferno)
In Hell, the punishment of souls often reflects the sins that they have committed during their lives, and the fifth circle is no exception to this rule. The Irascible, or those who were overthrown with anger in their lives, lie in the fifth circle of Hell. The tangled bodies at the centre of the painting represents the fate of the souls in this circle as they are forced to fight one another atop the mud and water of the river Styx.
The Furies (Canto IX, Inferno)
The sixth to the ninth circle of Hell is categorised a separate city, referred to as Dis. As Dante and Virgil approach the gates of Dis, they are met with a host of fallen angels, who demand to know why Dante, who is still alive, are walking amongst the souls of the dead. Even with Virgil’s best efforts, the pair are denied entry into Dis, until the three Furies appear. The Furies, demons who are half-woman and half-serpent, threaten to summon Medusa to turn Dante into stone. In Dalí’s composition, we see one of the Furies seemingly in flight at the centre; But, if you look closer, you will be able to spot all three of the demons in painting.
The Heretics (Canto X, Inferno)
Upon entering the city of Dis with the help of a Divine Messenger, Dante and Virgil are met with the dwellers of the sixth circle of Hell: The Heretics. The souls of the Heretics are condemned to lie inside fiery sepulchres until judgement day, when the souls, joined with their earthly bodies, are condemned to remain sealed within their tombs forever. Here, Dalí depicts Dante’s encounter with Farinata, a political leader and nobleman of Dante’s time whom he finds lying inside a sepulchre. Dalí adds his artistic spin to the narrative at hand, choosing to illustrate the soul of Farinata as a stony, statuesque mass towering over Virgil and Dante.
Anticipations of Low Hell (Canto XI, Inferno)
This composition serves as a visual representation of what is to be expected for the remainder of our journey through the lowest depths of hell. This painting showcases a remarkable feature: an elephant-like form encircling the body of a soul on the right-hand side. Dalí frequently incorporated elephants as motifs in his works, using them as powerful visual symbols representing power and temptation. In this painting, this symbolic meaning of the elephant remains consistent. By portraying the elephant entwined around the throat of the soul, Dalí conveys the notion that these souls have succumbed to the irresistible appeal of power and the temptations of sin and therefore are condemned to eternity in Hell as a result.
The Minotaur (Canto XII, Inferno)
On their journey through the first ring of the seventh circle of hell, Dante and Virgil encounter the minotaur, the monstrous guard of the seventh circle that is half-man, half-bull. Virgil cleverly provokes the monster, causing it to fly into a fit of rage. This allows Virgil and Dante to slip past the monster and enter the realms of the seventh circle. Upon their arrival, the pair are greeted with a river of blood. Above the river, a group of centaurs, creatures who are half-man half-horse are seen watching over the souls that have committed the sin of violence with bows and arrows.
The Forest of Suicides (Canto XIII, Inferno)
As the pair continue deeper into the seventh circle, Dante and Virgil are met with a forest filled with dark, gnarled trees. Upon Virgil’s insistence, Dante snaps a twig from a nearby tree and finds himself surprised when the tree cries out in pain and starts to bleed. Dante quickly finds out that the souls of the suicides, or those who have committed violence against themselves, are trapped within these trees. These souls are trapped and unable to act on their own desires, denied any release they may seek and forced into a state of immobility. Restricted and unable to act upon themselves, the souls are further tortured by Harpies, monsters who are half-human, half-bird.
The Blasphemers (Canto XIV, Inferno)
Once they are out of the forest of the suicides, Virgil and Dante wander into a pit of sand in which no vegetation grows. Here, they are met with a flock of weeping, naked souls lying on the ground, being punished with torrents of flaming rain. These sinners identify themselves as those who have committed the sin of blasphemy, having enacted violence against the ideals of the church.
The Blasphemers is perhaps one of the most noticeably ‘Dalí-esque’ works in the collection presented in this exhibit. The composition depicts a skull stretched out and melting across the centre of the page. The melting figure is reminiscent of Dalí’s signature ‘soft watches’, seen in his iconic 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory. The stretched and melting skull reflect the unrelenting harshness of the idea of eternal suffering that these sinners endure- the experience of time inevitably warping and becoming an entirely intangible and nonlinear experience.
The Sodomites (Canto XIV, Inferno)
The last group of sinners in the seventh circle that we are introduced to before we make our descent into the eighth circle of Hell are the sodomites. Sodomy, or as Dante defines it, sins against nature, is seen as a bodily sin. Correspondingly, the sodomites are sentenced to endure physical punishment. These souls are condemned to walk for eternity as they are assailed by a rain of flames. Though the flaming rain itself is not seen within the composition, the sharp angles that the bodies of the sinners shown in the composition are contorted into effectively convey the severity of suffering that these souls are subject to.
The Phlegethon Waterfall (Canto XVI, Inferno)
The Phlegethon River is one of the five rivers depicted as the part of the underworld in Greek mythology. Here, the phlegethon is a river of boiling blood located in the seventh circle of Hell. Virgil and Dante are met with a rushing waterfall at the end of their path in the seventh circle. Here, Virgil instructs Dante to unravel a cord he has been wearing around his waist, then throws the cord into the pits of the waterfall. This beckons the next monster they encounter in their journey, who assists the pair in their journey crossing into the eighth circle.
The Fraud (Canto XVII, Inferno)
Here, we see Dalí’s interpretation of the beast that Virgil calls forth to aid his and Dante’s descent into the eighth circle. Geryon is a mighty beast: the very manifestation of the sin of fraudulence. He has the body and head of a man- but as he draws closer, we quickly see that the man-like appearance of Geryon is a façade. Despite his humanoid appearance from the waist up, Geryon has a half-reptile, half-beast body, with the wings of a bat and the tail and stinger of a scorpion. Dante and Virgil are seen looking up at the monstrous figure which presents himself in front of the two poets, the figures surrounded in a red haze emanating from the waterfall.
On Geryon’s Back (Canto XVII, Inferno)
Despite his fear and unwillingness, Dante reluctantly rides atop Geryon’s back with the help of Virgil’s encouragements and insistence. The pair ride on the monster’s back down into the bottom of the pits of Hell at the start of the 8th circle, the circle of the fraudulent.
The Seducers (Canto XVIII, Inferno)
The eighth circle of hell (also known as Malebolge) is a cavern which is subdivided into 10 smaller Bolgia, or pockets. Each Bolgia holds souls who have committed various natures of fraud. Shortly after their departure from Geryon, Dante and Virgil arrive at the first pocket, where those who are condemned for the sin of seduction reside. Here, the sinners are seen walking and running in an endless loop as demons flog at their bodies. We see a figure in blue, presumably Virgil, standing in the middle of the composition, cowering as he watches this horrifying scene unfold before him.
The Flatterers (Canto XVIII, Inferno)
As they approach the second pocket of the eight circle, Dante and Virgil are met with a lake of excrement, in which a group of sinners are seen writhing and groaning. These sinners are identified as those who have committed the sin of false flattery. Their flattery which has no substance are seen as being equivalent to spewing excrement from their mouths, and they are punished accordingly. Here, Dalí executes the illustration of the narrative in a way that simply, yet effectively delivers the message. Dante, pictured on the right, is seen kneeling, and looking up in contemplation at a disfigured face of a sinner. The face is drooping and grotesque, with the mouth of the face having been replaced symbolically to suggest the notion of false flattery being as much value as human excrement.
The Simoniacs (Canto XIX, Inferno)
The Simoniacs are those souls that are guilty of the sin of simony, condemned to punishment in the third pocket of the eighth circle of hell. Simony, the sin of using the church or power within the church for personal or monetary gain, is punished severely; the sinners are set into a hole carved into stone head-first and their feet are lit on fire with Holy oil, presenting a curious reversal of the Baptismal process. Dalí is a master at manipulating his compositions to deliver a profound psychological effect, and The Simoniacs is a perfect example. Though the composition itself remains quite simple and uncluttered, the towering mass of stone in which the sinners are stuck within provides an inherent sense of claustrophobia.
Manto (Canto XX, Inferno)
In the fourth pocket, Dante and Virgil are met with a sinner named Manto. A sorceress originally known for her appearance in Virgil’s Aeneid, Manto is charged with the sin of false prophecy and divination. Horribly disfigured beyond recognition, she tells the story of her life and her sins for Dante and Virgil to contemplate. In the Divine Comedy, Manto is seen with the other sinners in this circle as having her head on backwards because of having attempted to look into the future. In this composition, Dalí chooses to take a more dynamic & interpretive approach.
Instead of having her head on backwards, Manto’s head seems to be in a constant snapping-back motion, suggested by the headdress that seems to be whipping back and forth. Additionally, Manto’s figure is greatly exaggerated, almost blurring the boundaries between human and beast. This depicts the disfigurement she has been subject to, as well as serving as a visual indication of the dangers of attempting to accomplish what lies beyond human capacity.
The Corrupt Politicians (Canto XXII, Inferno)
The fifth pocket of the eighth circle is inhabited by corrupt politicians. Here, the pit is covered in boiling tar, with the sinners submerged in the boiling substance. Dalí sees a chance to elaborate upon the narrative here in his own way, and does so masterfully: We see a soul here, encased in what looks to be hardened tar. The soul is slumped in defeat, with his tongue removed and placed directly in his line of sight; what once had been their tool for power is now taken away from him.
To add to the shame and helplessness, Dante, Virgil, and a crowd of souls are seen looking down towards at the soul- an inversion of roles of sorts, as politicians are mostly looked up on in their lives. The visual irony of the punishment that these souls suffer resonate particularly deeply here, and this painting serves as a sharp commentary on the sins of corrupt politics.
The Prophecy of Vanni Fucci (Canto XXIV, Inferno)
After a laborious climb across a gorge of rocks, Dante and Virgil reach a bridge which leads them to the seventh pocket. Here, they are greeted with the sight of hundreds of serpents, writhing and tangling themselves to bind the hands and feet of the souls who are charged with thievery. Dante watches as a serpent lunges at the throat of a sinner, biting him.
The sinner catches on fire, materialising into ash, but promptly re-materialises back into their human-like form. Fascinated, Dante asks the sinner who he is. The sinner introduces himself as Vanni Fucci, a man from Pistoia. Vanni Fucci, ashamed of the state that the pair find him in, lashes out at Dante and delivers a malicious prophecy. He declares that a battle will occur in Pistoia once Dante returns to the mortal world, where Dante’s political allies will be wounded.
The Punishment of Vanni Fucci (Canto XXV, Inferno)
After delivering this ominous prophecy, Vanni Fucci proceeds to do the unthinkable: he curses and gestures obscenely towards God. As soon as he curses out towards God, the serpents swarm the body of Vanni Fucci, wrapping around his throat and limbs. He is rendered speechless and unable to struggle against his assailants, and flees from Virgil and Dante, still tangled with the serpents.
The Centaur (Canto XXV, Inferno)
Following Vanni Fucci’s departure, a furious centaur named Cacus hastily approaches Virgil and Dante, seeking information about Vanni Fucci’s whereabouts. Virgil reveals that Cacus, unlike other centaurs, is eternally condemned to the eighth ring for his theft, having stolen from the Greek hero Hercules. In this scene, we observe Cacus with his arms outstretched, gaze directed towards the sky. Dalí’s utilization of a sketchy, circular style in this artwork adds an extra layer of chaos and dynamism, perfectly suited for depicting such a powerful and intimidating creature.
The Black Cherub (Canto XXVII, Inferno)
The eighth circle’s eighth pocket is dedicated to those who have used their gift of intellect in a deceitful or destructive manner. Here, Dante meets a soul who had joined the Franciscan order in an attempt to wash away the sins of his past as a warlord. However, the soul falls back into his old ways when Pope Boniface VIII asks him for counsel to destroy his enemies, promising he will be redeemed for his sins.
Once he reaches death’s door, he finds St. Francis has come to retrieve his soul to ascend to Paradise. However, a black cherub of hell intervenes, stating that he is condemned for his sins of false counsel. Dalí chooses to make the black cherub the centre of this artwork. The cherub is drawn in his signature distorted, dream-like style, towering over the other figures in the composition.
Mohamed (Canto XXVIII, Inferno)
La Girafe en Feu is an organization that takes pride in making art accessible and sharing the enchantment of art with a broader audience. However, we also recognize that the contents of the Divine Comedy and the Divina Dalí exhibit include images that could be offensive or hurtful to certain viewers.
In this context, the portrayal of Mohamed in The Divine Comedy and Dalí’s depiction might be seen as derogatory, hurtful, and blasphemous by those who practice Islam.
The artwork reflects a historical tension between the Catholic and Islamic faith during the Middle Ages, especially considering the Crusades of the High and Late Middle Ages, where Prophet Mohammed was often depicted negatively and in inflammatory ways. Artists like Auguste Rodin, Gustave Doré, and William Blake have illustrated similar graphic scenes from The Divine Comedy. We kindly ask visitors to the galleries to view this artwork with an understanding of this historical context. La Girafe en Feu’s intention in presenting this work is not to offend or provoke but to provide insight and encourage discussions of history reflected in the Divine Comedy and Dali’s works.
In the ninth pocket lies those who are sowers of discord and schism- those responsible for the division between people. Here, Dante and Virgil encounter the soul of the Prophet Mohamed of the Islamic religion, where he stands accused of being a heresiarch or an originator of heretical doctrine. He is seen as having been split from his chin down, with his entrails spilling out, pulling his chest open. This theatrical display of the punishment by Mohamed reflects the widespread Christian misconception at the time, in which Christians viewed Mohamed as a theatrical character of sorts, driven to propagate ‘false’ religious teachings to satisfy his lust and ambition.
Dalí curiously positions the Prophet in a crucifix-like position here. The figure is outstretched in a cross-like configuration, hands nailed down to the ground. This parallel between the martyrdom of Christ and the punishment of Mohamed here is an interesting and perhaps controversial choice by Dalí- however, this curious parallel draws upon the reflection and irony of those once persecuted for their religious practices now enacting violence in the name of religion.
Bertrand de Borne (Canto XXVIII, Inferno)
Travelling further into the ninth pocket, Dante and Virgil spot a man holding his own severed head amongst the crowd of sinners. He identifies himself as the Troubadour poet Bertrand de Borne, a poet known for his indulgence in the destructive nature of warfare and battle. He explains that he, during his life, caused a rift between a king and his son. For this sin, he is divided into head and body.
Here, we are presented with the depiction of Bertrand de Borne assuming a posture that suggests an excessive vanity bordering on self-worship. He is portrayed on one knee, reverently cradling his own head. In the background, two figures with halos, presumably representing Dante and Virgil, can be observed. Despite the divine significance of these figures, Bertrand de Borne appears indifferent to their presence, persistently prioritizing his self-interest above all else.
Gianni Schicchi’s Morsure (Canto XXX, Inferno)
The final pocket of the eighth circle is where those who have committed sins of deceit and falsification lie. Here, Dante and Virgil watch in horror as a beastly soul runs and sinks his teeth into another. Other souls in the circle inform Dante and Virgil that this beastly soul is that of Gianni Schicchi, who impersonated a dead nobleman to benefit from the will that he had left. He is driven mad by the punishments and wanders the depths of the eight circle, attacking others. Dalí uses a style reminiscent of his ‘soft watches’ again here, depicting the figures of Gianni Schicchi and his victim as melting slumped faces.
In the Hands of Antaeus (Canto XXXI)
In the heart of the eighth circle lies a deep pit, serving as the link between the eighth and ninth circles. Through the dense mist, Dante gazes forward and perceives what appears to be a series of towering structures. Curious, he seeks clarification from Virgil, who enlightens the poet, revealing that these “towers” are, in fact, the colossal bodies of giants standing at the threshold to the lowest circles of Hell. While the other giants are bound and constrained, one stands apart – Antaeus. His fate diverges from his brethren’s as he does not partake in the rebellion against the Olympian Gods. With gentle strength, Antaeus cradles the two poets in his hand and lowers them into the final abyss of Hell.
The Traitor of Montaperti (Canto XXXII, Inferno)
The ninth circle of Hell is a vast lake, Cocytus, frozen in ice. The sinners in this circle are those who have committed treachery. These souls are frozen up to their necks, chattering and crying. While walking around the lake, Dante accidentally kicks the head of a sinner, who yells at Dante, asking why the poet would wish to cause him more suffering. Intrigued, Dante asks the soul what his name is, promising fame for him in the mortal realm. The soul, however, refuses to answer this question, leading Dante to grab a handful of the soul’s hair and threaten to pull his locks out if he does not reveal his identity. He still refuses to utter his name out of shame for his betrayal until, eventually, a nearby soul announces that the man is Bocca, who betrayed his party during the battle of Montaperti.
Ugolino and Ruggieri (Canto XXXII & XXXIII, Inferno)
Further into the ninth circle, Dante witnesses the horrible scene of a soul gnawing on another soul’s head from behind. Dante approaches and talks to the soul, curious about what sin could warrant such cruelty. The soul gnawing at the head of the other looks up and declares himself to be Count Ugolino, and the head in front of him as Archbishop Ruggieri. As a traitor, Ugolino was imprisoned for his sins and locked in a tower with his sons without food or water. Driven insane by hunger, he resorts to eating the corpses of his children. The archbishop, who was responsible for this atrocity and a traitor himself, was condemned to be eaten by Ruggieri for eternity as a punishment for his heinous act.
In his painting, Dalí depicts the two heads as skulls, with ants crawling over both. His utilisation of ants as a symbol of death and decay is seen throughout his corpus of works, and the utilisation of the ants here makes an already chilling narrative even more desolate and ghastly.
Lucifer (Canto XXXIV, Inferno)
At the very bottom of hell lies the prince of the underworld: Lucifer. Like the other sinners, he is stuck waist-deep in ice and unable to move. Despite his immense power, Lucifer remains immobile, as his futile efforts to break free by flapping his wings only perpetuate the ice’s freezing grip. The mouths on his three heads hold the bodies of the three greatest sinners in history: Judas, Cassius, and Brutus. Dalí depicts this monstrous creature in a way that accentuates the fallen angel’s suffering and resignation- the lord of the underworld is reduced to a hunched and sunken figure, exhausted and acquiescent to his own fate.
This second room depicts Purgatory, a realm that may not be as familiar to many. Here, saved souls can purge their sins to make themselves worthy of ascending to Paradise. Divided into seven terraces representing the seven deadly sins, the souls undergo penitence and purification of their souls in this realm. Much like Inferno, Dante and Virgil take us along on their ascent through the mountain of Purgatory and their encounter with souls, monsters, and angels.
- The Kingdom of the Penitents (Canto I, Purgatorio)
Through The Kingdom of the Penitents, Dalí introduces viewers to the realm of Purgatory. The artwork features an angelic figure with drawers protruding from its body, a motif Dalí enthusiasts may recognize from his notable 1936 painting, The Anthropomorphic Cabinet. This drawer-adorned figure serves as a visual representation of self-reflection, showcasing the concept quite literally. It initiates contemplation on the themes of self-reflection and penitence, which are central to the realm of Purgatory and essential to understanding the rest of the paintings in this room.
- The Guiding Angel (Canto II, Purgatorio)
At dawn, Virgil and Dante stand at the mouth of the Tiber River, where they witness a boat being steered by an angel picking up the gathered souls waiting for their entrance into Purgatory. Once on the boat, Dante and Virgil are surrounded by souls in awe that Dante is a living person.
- The Power of the Soul (Canto IV, Purgatorio)
Throughout the Divine Comedy, a recurring motif equates the act of desiring to that of taking flight. The souls’ longing for repentance and purification drives them to ascend Mount Purgatory. This notion of ascent and the compelling force of desire find direct expression in the outstretched figure depicted in the painting, gazing skyward with wings extended as if poised to take flight at any moment. Conversely, the figure in the background symbolizes the opposite: those lacking ambition and the desire to ascend are shown crouched and hunched over, unable to spread their wings like their counterparts.
- The Negligent (Canto IV, Purgatorio)
As they approach the mountain of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil, find a narrow pathway that takes them up from the foot of the mountain. Dante is exhausted by this climb and asks how much longer this climb will take. Virgil comforts Dante by reassuring him that the rise will get easier as they progress. After their conversation ends, the two poets hear a voice nearby call out, prompting them to sit down before they make their way up again. To their surprise, they find a group of naked men lounging behind a giant boulder. These souls are the negligent- those who delayed their repentance until the very end of their lives. Because of the delays they had in their earthly lives, they are forced to wait here for an equivalent of their time spent on Earth before they can climb Purgatory’s slopes.
- Reproaches of Virgil (Canto V, Purgatorio)
Continuing in their ascent, Dante becomes distracted when one of the negligent souls shouts out that Dante is a living person. Upon seeing that he is distracted, Virgil chastises the poet for his lack of focus, telling him they must continue and focus on the task at hand.
- Caught in Violent Death (Canto V, Purgatorio)
On their journey further up the slopes of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil are met with a group of souls chanting the Miserere, a penitent psalm. They are distracted from their prayers by Dante’s presence and identify themselves as those who have violently met their fate and repented at the last minute without the ability to give a final confession. Though not granted entrance into Paradise right away, these souls can ascend once they have paid sufficiently for their sins in Purgatory.
- The Law of Ascending (Canto VII, Purgatorio)
Dante consults a soul amongst those who have died violent deaths, Sordello, for advice regarding the most straightforward path up Purgatory. Upon hearing this inquiry, Sordello advises the two poets to rest for the night, drawing a line on the ground and warning the pair that they cannot continue past the line until morning.
- The Guardian Angel of the Valley (Canto VIII, Purgatorio)
Dante and Virgil sit with Sordello to enjoy the beautiful sunset that paints the sky. As they sit and stare ahead, they notice two angels with green wings and swords. Sordello explains to the pair that the two angels descend into Purgatory every night to protect the souls from a serpent that passes through the valley of the penitents. Much like the imagery in Adam and Eve’s story, the serpent symbolizes sin. The angels are seen as guardians of the souls to keep them away from the temptations of evil. In this composition, Dalí depicts the corruption from which the angels guard the souls as a human figure. The angel is seen with his sword brandished and looks ready to strike down on a human figure who is also armed.
- The Eagle of Grace (Canto IX, Purgatorio)
Later in the evening, Dante finally drifts off into sleep. In his sleep, he dreams of an eagle who grabs him with its talons and carries the poet into ‘a sphere of fire’. Upon waking from his dream, he realizes that he has somehow reached the gate of Purgatory proper. Virgil informs Dante that St. Lucy has carried him to the gate.
Dalí, a prominent advocate of Freudian psychoanalysis, skilfully incorporates its principles into this captivating artwork. In this painting, Dante appears as a headless figure, imagery commonly linked to concepts of vulnerability and self-criticism within psychoanalysis. With this dreamscape, Dalí emphasizes Dante’s profound self-criticism and doubts regarding his capacity to successfully traverse Mount Purgatory. The painting is a thought-provoking exploration of Dante’s inner struggles and his introspective contemplation throughout his spiritual odyssey.
- Our Lady’s announcement (Canto X, Purgatorio)
Once Dante and Virgil step through the gates of Purgatory proper, they are greeted with a series of marble carvings on the side of the road that leads them up the mountain. The first narrative depicted on the walls is the Annunciation, where the archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to declare her as the mother of Christ. The carvings remind Dante to stay humble and accept his role as a servant of God with humility throughout this journey.
- The Proud (Canto XI, Purgatorio)
The first terrace of Purgatory is reserved for those who committed the sin of pride. Here, the souls are forced to bear heavy weights on their shoulders, forcing them to hunch their backs and bend over. Much like in Inferno, the punishments directly reflect the crimes they are charged with.
- Arachne (Canto XII, Purgatorio)
Amongst the reliefs carved into the walls of the first terrace is a vivid, lifelike depiction of Arachne. Arachne, a prominent figure from Greek mythology, endures a severe punishment due to her hubris and pride, resulting in a monstrous transformation. As a highly skilled weaver, Arachne succumbs to arrogance and boldly declares her superiority over the goddess Athena. This audacity inspires Athena to confront Arachne, leading to a daring weaving contest. Ultimately, Arachne is defeated by Athena, who, as a penalty for her defiance, transforms Arachne into a creature that embodies both the characteristics of a woman and a spider—a hybrid form symbolizing her enduring chastisement.
- The Second Terrace (Canto XIII, Purgatorio)
The second terrace of Purgatory is dedicated to those plagued by envy. Dante and Virgil embark on an ascending path that winds clockwise around this terrace. Initially, their journey is devoid of encounters, with nothing but the blue rocks comprising the terrace surrounding them. However, as they progress, Dante and Virgil are gradually greeted by the resounding voices of spirits proclaiming words of love. At first, the souls remain unseen, but upon closer observation, Dante realises that they are adorned in garments resembling the rocks that form the terrace itself.
The bowed head motif seen here is a prominent characteristic which persists throughout Purgatory. This symbolic gesture of prayer and penitence is a motif heavily inspired by the works of another renowned artist, Jean François Millet. Millet and his painting, The Angelus, was an obsession of Dalí’s during his youth. Continuing with this fascination, the artist uses motifs that pay homage to the painting in many of his works, including the bowed head figures seen in Purgatory.
- Blinded by Envy (Canto XIII, Purgatorio)
The souls on the second terrace are punished by having their eyes sewn shut with iron wires- a brutal way of taking away the gift of sight, preventing them from having misdirected visions and envy altogether. Dante is distraught by the sight of these souls and bursts into tears.
- The Angel of Mercy (Canto XV, Purgatorio)
At the end of the second terrace, Dante is blinded by a bright light that causes him to look away and shield his eyes. As the light gets closer to the two poets, Dante questions Virgil about the light. Virgil informs him that the source of the light is an angel, acting as a messenger to welcome the pair into Paradise. The angel guides the couple to the entrance of the third terrace and reassures the poets that the ascent will be less steep from here on.
- The Smoke of Irascibility (Canto XVI, Purgatorio)
The third terrace of Purgatory is where the irascible, or the wrathful, lie in Purgatory. Dante and Virgil are surrounded by a thick layer of smoke. Dante experiences visions of three mythological and historical stories as they make their way through the smoke. The first vision depicts the story of Philomel, a Greek princess who meets her fate because of her lustful brother-in-law. The second shows the crucifixion of the corrupt Vizier Haman, who is executed for his attempt to turn the Persians against the Jews. The final vision depicts Lavinia, the princess of Latium whose mother kills herself after she discovers her daughter’s marriage to Aeneas. These stories all represent anger and vengeance, reflecting Dante’s journey into the terrace of the wrathful.
- Ecstatic Visions (Canto XVII, Purgatorio)
In their ascent through the terrace of the irascible, Dante notices that the fog which surrounds him slowly starts to dissipate as they journey upwards. As the fog fades, the sun streams in, giving Dante a view of the sun, which has begun to set on the horizon. Here, the mist seems to materialise into figures of people with their heads bowed- reminiscent of the figures of the penitents we see in The Second Terrace. A face appears to be looking down at Dante from the right side of the composition- perhaps a glimpse of Divine guidance as the poet makes his way through the mountain of Purgatory.
- The Lazy (Canto XVIII, Purgatorio)
The fourth terrace of Purgatory is dedicated to the slothful souls who are compelled to partake in unending activity, praising the zealous deeds accomplished by historical figures like Mary and Julius Caesar. The souls hurry past Virgil and Dante, too preoccupied to pause and converse with the two travellers.
In this realm, Dalí portrays one of the souls rushing by Dante and Virgil, transforming the figure into a creature bearing traits of both a human and a sloth. This artistic representation enhances the contrast between the sins the souls have committed and the fitting penalties they endure.
- The Dream Siren (Canto XIX, Purgatorio)
After entering the fourth terrace, Dante has yet another dream vision. Here, Dante is lured and distracted by an old lady who transforms herself into a beautiful siren. Upon seeing that Dante is being seduced, an unnamed woman calls out for Virgil. Virgil arrives at the scene and rips the dress the Siren is wearing off her body, revealing a foul-smelling mass of guts, snapping Dante out of his trance. Upon seeing Dante distressed about the dream, Virgil informs the poet that the dream is meant to serve as a warning to keep away and overcome temptations that may present themselves.
- The Avaricious (Canto XIX, Purgatorio)
The avaricious, or the greedy, are the inhabitants of the fifth terrace of Purgatory. Here, Dante and Virgil come across souls weeping, lying face down on the ground and reciting a Psalm, Adhaesit pavimento anima mea, expressing their desire to follow God’s rule.
Dalí’s intense interest in psychoanalysis and the artistic method of paranoia-criticism is clearly demonstrated within this painting. The single visual configuration presented to us here gives rise to two distinct images: at first glance, the centre of the painting seems to depict two faces. Upon closer inspection, however, the image shifts before our eyes, and you can clearly make out two figures hunched over and looking towards the ground in a penitent pose. Dalí invokes this method of paranoia-criticism to allow for a broader and more subjective understanding of his works by the viewers. He uses it in this collection to convey the sense of uncertainty and shifted reality that Dante experiences on his journey through the realms of the afterlife.
- Prodigality (Canto XXII, Purgatorio)
The prodigals are the second group of people who inhabit the fifth terrace of Purgatory. Much like the Avaricious, these souls are also condemned to serving penitence by lying face down on the floors of the terrace. Dalí represents two figures in the nude here- perhaps to juxtapose the extravagance these souls may have indulged in during their lives.
- The Golden Age (Canto XXII, Purgatorio)
During their journey through the fifth terrace, Dante and Virgil encounter a soul named Statius, another famed poet. Statius reveals that he embraced Christianity through the influence of Virgil’s writings, recognizing the Roman poet as the one who illuminated his path to God.
Much like his role as a guide to Dante, Virgil is described as a figure who encourages people to “drink from the rivers of God”. Here, Dalí reflects this idea of Virgil as a faithful guide visually, depicting Virgil tenderly watching over the figure of Dante as he drinks from a stream. This further solidifies Virgil’s dutiful presence as a guide to Dante but signals that his influence as a divine guide stretches beyond just this narrative.
- Gluttony (Canto XXIII, Purgatorio)
The entrance to the sixth terrace of Purgatory is populated with lush fruit trees and clear streams of water. As they approach the terrace, they hear the trees reciting the names of Holy individuals who embody the virtue of temperance, such as John the Baptist. Contrary to the lushness of this terrace, the souls residing within it are starving and reminded of stories of famine and hunger to repent for their gluttony.
In this piece, Dalí takes somewhat of a counterapproach to the representation of gluttony. Instead of representing the famished souls who suffer in purgatory, the artist portrays a figure engulfed by the vegetation inhabiting the sixth terrace. In an ironic twist of fate, the gluttonous now transform into the food they once consumed excessively.
- The Tree of Punishment (Canto XXIV, Purgatorio)
As Dante and Virgil travel further into the sixth terrace, they spot another fruit tree. As they approach the tree, they see several souls under it, reaching for the fruits hanging on its branches. He sees that as the souls desperately reach out, the tree seems to move so that the fruits are always just out of reach. Virgil cautions Dante to stay away from the tree, hinting at the fact that the tree is related to the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve ate.
- The Lecherous (Canto XXV, Purgatorio)
Dante and Virgil finally arrive at the last terrace in purgatory, which houses the lustful. Here, the lustful souls are punished and purified through flames which shoot out from the cliffs of the terrace. The souls are forced to walk through the fire, chanting hymns about lust and chastity.
- The Two Ranks of the Luxurious (Canto XXVI, Purgatorio)
Dante carefully treads the path of the seventh terrace, afraid of being burned by the flames. As he continues walking with the souls, Dante realizes that the souls on this terrace are divided into two groups, who walk in two separate lines. The first group is identified as those who have “Offended as did Caesar”, referring to those who have indulged in homosexuality. The second group is identified as those who have committed heterosexual acts of lust. The two ranks are represented in contrasting colours in this painting.
- The Last Words of Virgil (Canto XXVII, Purgatorio)
At the end of the seventh terrace, Dante must cross through the wall of flames to purify himself and ascend into the realms of Paradise. Dante is hesitant at first, thinking back to when he has seen people burn and their pain. However, as always, Virgil stays by his side and encourages the poet to step forward into the flames. Once he crosses the barrier of fire, Dante is overwhelmed by the heat but manages to emerge unharmed.
After a short sleep, Dante and Virgil climb the steps to Earthly Paradise. Upon reaching the end of the steps, Dante and Virgil exchange their final words, and Dante is crowned and mitred by Virgil. The crown depicted in the painting is a Laurel crown, a fitting adornment for Dante, as the Laurel leaf often signifies victory and poetic virtue.
- The Divine Forest (Canto XXVIII, Purgatorio)
Dante wanders into Earthly Paradise with Virgil and Statius, a Greco-Roman poet who takes over as Dante’s guide through these realms leading up to Paradise. In the lush garden that they find themselves in, they encounter a beautiful woman, Matilde, who informs Dante and Statius that the garden that they find themselves in right now is the Garden of Eden, the place from which Adam and Eve were expelled from after they consume the forbidden fruit.
In the centre of the painting stands the angelic figure of Matilde, towering with grace, while Statius and Dante direct their gaze upward towards her. Dalí cleverly provides the audience with a foreshadowing of the imminent encounter between Dante and his muse by including a cloaked figure discreetly positioned on the painting’s top left side.
- Meeting of Dante and Beatrice (Canto XXX, Purgatorio)
After their encounter with Matilde, Dante notices a procession approaching his way. This procession depicts the books of the Bible: 24 Elders representing the Old Testament, followed by animals crowned in green which represents the gospels, and finally, the seven figures cloaked in red, representing the Old Testament. Centred between the animals representing the gospels stands a chariot, upon which Dante’s muse, Beatrice, stands. Dante now comes face-to-face with his beloved, overjoyed at the sight of his muse. Dante turns joyfully to his side to speak to Virgil and finds that his faithful guide has left, fulfilling his duty of guiding Dante to this point.
- Dante’s Repentance (Canto XXX & XXXI, Purgatorio)
Upon their reunion, Beatrice expresses her dismay towards Dante, who has strayed from the path of faith after her death. Dante starts to weep and confess his shortcomings to his Madonna, dismayed by his actions. Here, we see Dante depicted in a dark and murky colour palette, seemingly reflecting the state of his psyche. Unlike his proud and tall stance in most other depictions, he is seen with his back turned to us, shielding his face and cowering in shame. Upon his repentance, Beatrice instructs Matilde to bathe the poet in the river Lethe.
- Towards the Tree of Law (Canto XXXII, Purgatorio)
After Beatrice confronts Dante, the procession in which Beatrice arrives resumes its march, Dante, Matilde, and Statius following close. As they continue, the group encounters a tree, bare and stripped of its leaves. The procession begins chanting “Adam” as they circle the tree. The tree is identified as the Tree of Law, from which Adam stole the forbidden fruit.
- The Awakening of Dante (Canto XXXII, Purgatorio)
Dante falls asleep yet again in Earthly Paradise. He awakens to the procession he has been following ascending to the Heavens, save for Beatrice and seven maidens from the parade, who stay behind as custodians of the Tree of Law.
- Dante Purified (Canto XXXIII, Purgatorio)
In this final painting of Purgatory, Beatrice instructs Dante that his job, once he is back in the Earthly realm, is to write down the visions he sees of Earthly Paradise. Dante finds himself confused when he does not remember his transgressions towards Beatrice he previously repented for. Beatrice informs him that the memory of his sins has been washed away as he has drunk from the waters of the Lethe, purifying the poet. Dante, led by Matilde, undergoes the final act here to cleanse himself of sin and prepare for his ascent into the realms of Paradise here: he is immersed in the river Eunoé to be reborn spiritually.
Here, Dante’s spiritual rebirth and ascent are represented as an entrance through heavenly gates. Dante looks on through a gate shaped like an angel. He has paid his dues and is now ready to ascend into the next realm: the realm of angels and God.
The final room in this exhibition depicts Dante’s journey into the third realm of the afterlife: Paradise. Here, Dante explores Heaven’s ten concentric spheres and domains surrounding the Earth, with Beatrice as his guide. Here, Dante meets the souls of those who have lived righteously: he encounters saints, friends, and even family members on this journey. At the final stretch of this epic journey, Dante ascends to a realm beyond physical existence, the Empyrean, where God resides.
- Dante (Canto I, Paradiso)
Dante now finds himself purified of his sins and ascending into the spheres of Paradise. The poet describes Paradise as a place in which the glory of God shines the brightest and struggles to recall the magnificence of this final realm. In his attempt to do justice in his depiction of Paradise, Dante invokes the God Apollo, asking the God of the sun and poetry for the strength and eloquence to tell the story of his journey. Here, we see Dante shrouded in sunlight, looking towards a mass of clouds, foreshadowing the poet’s journey toward the skies.
- The Angel of the First Heaven (Canto II, Paradiso)
Upon their arrival in Paradise, Beatrice and Dante ascend into the Heaven of the Moon. Dante warns the readers as we follow him into Paradise: he is guided by Apollo and the Muses on his journey onwards, but we, as readers, should be wary, and those who “turn [their] minds in time unto the bread of angels”.
Here, we see Beatrice with her back turned to us. Dalí puts us in the perspective of Dante here, following his beloved, adorned with a halo, into the realms of Paradise.
- Piccarda Donati (Canto III, Paradiso)
Here, we see Dante and Beatrice’s first encounter with a blessed soul in Paradise. The soul is identified as Piccarda Donati, the sister of Dante’s friend Forese Donati. Piccarda, despite her recent death, has made her ascent up into Paradise from Purgatory. Beatrice explains that those who reside in the sphere of the Moon, the lowest level of Paradise, are placed here because of unfulfilled vows.
- Beatrice Solves Dante’s Doubts (Canto IV, Paradiso)
Throughout Paradise, we see that Dante has many doubts about the nature of this heavenly realm, which are addressed and resolved by his trusted muse and guide, Beatrice. After his encounter with Piccarda, Dante has several questions and doubts about the nature and hierarchy in Paradise. Upon picking up on Dante’s uncertainty, Beatrice quickly steps in, comforting Dante and resolving his doubts.
- In the Mercury Heaven (Canto V, Paradiso)
Dante and Beatrice continue to travel up the spheres of Paradise and arrive at the second sphere, the heaven of Mercury. Here, Dante observes the souls of those who were too ambitious and those deficient in the virtue of justice. As the souls of this sphere surround the poet, he notices that they are shrouded in brilliant light. Upon Beatrice’s encouragement, Dante speaks to one of the souls of this realm. Upon Dante’s prompt, the soul glows even brighter and identifies himself as Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire.
- Church and Empire (Canto VI, Paradiso)
Upon introducing himself, Emperor Justinian tells Dante the story of the Roman Empire, highlighting the hypocrisy of those who feigned support of the Holy Roman Church but opposed it in reality, like the Lombards.Dalí depicts this conflict between the church and Empire through a visual metaphor. Here, we see a rhinoceros biting down on the finger of an Angel. The depiction of the Empire as a Rhinoceros may seem like a peculiar choice. Still, it becomes far more fascinating when Dalí’s strange obsession with these creatures is considered. Dalí considered the animal to be “the essential basis of every chaste and violent aesthetic”, making the utilisation of the rhino in this image an especially poignant choice, considering the Lombards’ duality, as Justinian described.
- Dante’s New Doubt (Canto VII, Paradiso)Upon hearing Justinian’s stories, Dante has new doubts which form in his mind. The poet looks up into the skies in a contemplative and questioning pose. Again, Beatrice comes to the rescue- she explains to the poet the need for man to atone for his sins despite Christ dying for their sins and the paradoxical nature of the sins of men who crucified Christ, juxtaposed with the cleansing of sins that the crucifixion represents.
- Ascension to Venus (Canto VIII, Paradiso)
The third sphere of Paradise, or the heaven of Venus, is reserved for those who have shown love for God and Humanity. Dante ascertains his arrival at this realm when he notices that his Madonna, Beatrice, becomes lovelier and more beautiful than she was as they make their ascent.
- The Bishop Troubadour (Canto IX, Paradiso
As Dante and Beatrice progress deeper into the sphere of Venus, they encounter a Troubadour known as Folco of Marseilles. In his earlier years, Folco, like many of his Troubadour contemporaries, achieved prominence as a musician-poet whose works revolved around themes of love. However, he undergoes a profound transformation in his later years, directing his focus towards religion and the divine, ultimately becoming a bishop and serving God. This spiritual metamorphosis, which forsakes his preoccupation with earthly love and worldly desires, grants him the privilege of ascending into Paradise.
Folco imparts wisdom concerning the souls dwelling in Paradise to Dante. He explains that these exalted spirits no longer harbour regrets for the sins committed during their mortal existence. Instead, they find boundless joy in divine providence. In this painting, Dalí portrays Folco as a figure with a bird-like head, playfully alluding to his previous vocation as a musician-poet before his spiritual ascension.
- Song of the Wise Spirits (Canto XII, Paradiso)
The fourth sphere of Paradise is the Heaven of the Sun. Here, Dante is greeted by a circle of souls, including religious figures such as St. Thomas. After a brief conversation with the saint, Dante and Beatrice are greeted by yet another procession of souls. These souls are entered by the sound of joyous trumpet calls.
- The Two Crowned Spirits (Canto XII, Paradiso)
The second procession of the souls of wise men joins the first in a beautiful display of harmony and grace here. The souls resemble the sight of a double rainbow, echoing one another and merging into one stunning image. We see one of the souls in the procession here flying past Dante and Beatrice, depicted in beautifully saturated colours.
- Original Perfection (Canto XIII, Paradiso)
Dante encounters St. Thomas in the Heaven of the Sun, who explains to Dante the degrees of perfection that are seen in the various creations of God.
- The Cross of Mars (Canto XIV, Paradiso)
The fifth sphere of Paradise, or the Heaven of Mars, is reserved for the Holy warriors or those who died fighting for the Catholic faith. Upon approaching this realm, Dante sees a giant, Ruby-red cross before him. The martyred souls in this sphere make up this splendid cross, which blazes brightly, rendering Dante speechless and awestruck.
This composition is reminiscent of Dalí’s 1951 painting Christ of St. John the Cross, which depicts the crucifixion of Jesus where his head is angled towards the viewers, veering from the typical head-on perspective of the cross, which is usually utilised in depictions of the crucifixion.
- Dust of Souls (Canto XIV, Paradiso)
Throughout Paradise, souls are compared to dust- they exist in the Divine realm of God, imperfect and human yet free of their Earthly burdens and sins. Though not perfect, the souls exist in the Heavenly plane, transformed into a more complete, divine version of themselves. Here, we see two figures: one in white, and one in blue, represented in dust-like fragments. The figures we see represented are presumably Dante and Beatrice, identifiable by their characteristic colour associations.The fractals which we see here largely resemble a triangular, conical shape. This shape is reminiscent of a rhinoceros horn, which is no coincidence. Dalí believed that the shape of a rhino horn was a form of perfection found amongst nature- and his representation of these fractals in the conical, triangular shape of rhino horns amplifies the ideas of divine perfection in this composition.
- Appearance of the Ancestor (Canto XVI, Paradiso)
In the Heaven of Mars, we observe Dante’s first encounter with a family member. A light which resembles a shooting star flashes towards the foot of the cross and greets Dante, identifying himself as the poet’s great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida.
- Chronology of Cacciaguida (Canto XVI, Paradiso)
Upon meeting his ancestor in Paradise, Dante revels in the nobility of his lineage. His ancestor uses this time to explain the history of Florence when he was alive, comparing it to the political turmoil occurring during Dante’s time. Here, we see the visual reflection between ancestor and descendent, as the figures of Dante and Beatrice are mirrored to that of the heavenly image of Cacciaguida.
- Cacciaguida Sees in God Dante’s Exile (Canto XVII, Paradiso)
Dante harbours many doubts throughout his journey in Paradise, and he is no different when faced with his ancestor. Sensing that Dante is becoming doubtful again, Beatrice encourages him to voice his concerns to Cacciaguida, assuring him that both she and his great-great-grandfather possess the insight to answer the questions troubling his mind. Upon admitting his doubts, Cacciaguida responds to his kin in kind, prophesising Dante’s exile from Florence. Dante is understandably distressed by this thought, but Cacciaguida is swift to reassure him, stating that his life and legacy will outlive the punishment he must endure.
- Beatrice’s Reassurance
Dante, upon hearing Cacciaguida’s prophecy, is understandably conflicted and dismayed. Beatrice, being dutiful as always, steps in to reassure Dante. She reminds him that he is near the Divine presence of God, who is the lifter of all wrongs. By reassuring him that Divine judgement is on his side, Beatrice encourages Dante not to be afraid and to carry on his divine journey.
- In the Heaven of Jupiter (Canto XIX, Paradiso)
Following the Heaven of Mars, Dante and his muse move on to the Heaven of Jupiter, a more temperate realm than the blood-red scene they witness in the Heaven of Mars. The Heaven of Mars is the realm of Justice- the souls here, much like the souls in the Heaven of Mars, form a shape which spells out the first verse of the Book of Wisdom, which reads: “Love Justice, You Who Rules the Earth”.
Here, we see Dante and Beatrice looking upon a procession of souls headed by a swan figure. The swan symbolises the Greek-Roman god Jupiter; Dalí cleverly utilises the bird to allow an easier understanding of the visual narrative.
- Blessed Spirit Constellation (Canto XX, Paradiso)
The heaven of Jupiter continues here, with Dante and Beatrice staring at the constellation of souls, which are described to glisten beautifully like jewels. The sprawling skyscape almost mimics the pointillism style here, showcasing the broad range of techniques Dalí utilised throughout his career.
The rhino horn motif also continues in this painting, reaching its climax- the conical forms are depicted in grey, making them unmistakably recognisable as rhino horns.
- The Mystic Ladder (Canto XXI, Paradiso)
When Dante and Beatrice arrive in the Heaven of Saturn, Dante sees a golden ladder outstretched in front of him, which shines so bright that he cannot see where it leads. As Dante looks on, he notices that souls are descending the ladder, shining so brilliantly that Dante describes the sight as that of all the beauties of the sky pouring down towards him from the ladder.
For the first time in Paradise, we see a configuration that extends beyond our sight. Like Dante, we, the readers, look on, uncertain of where the ladder leads. Dalí utilises this piece as a visual testament that the journey is progressing towards its conclusion.
- The Divine Impenetrability (Canto XXI, Paradiso)
In the Heaven of Saturn, Dante is approached by a soul who converses with him. Curious about why this specific soul has been selected for the exchange, the poet inquires about the rationale behind the choice. In response to this, the soul offers some insight: he states that Divine predestination cannot be measured by human intellect. The soul advises that not even the most enlightened soul in Paradise can answer Dante’s curiosity.
- Christ’s Garden, (Canto XXIII, Paradiso)
The next sphere of Heaven is Heaven of the fixed stars. Here, Dante experiences yet another set of visions, representing the advent and ascension of Christ, as well as the annunciation and assumption of the Virgin. Dante watches in awe as Christ appears, surrounded by all the souls he has redeemed. Beatrice urges him to look on further, though Dante is nearly blinded by the glow of Christ. He notes that the Virgin Mary is present as well.
- Apotheosis of Mary (Canto XXIII, Paradiso)
As Dante gazes upon the Virgin, he sees a light streaming towards her, encircling her and singing beautiful melodies. The light is identified as the Archangel Gabriel, who has come to take the Virgin to the Empyrean. Angels sing and praise the Virgin as the ‘Queen of Heaven’, showing their adoration towards her as a child does to its mother.The Virgin is depicted in fractals here, and the characteristic conical shape is also present in this composition. Angels surround the luminous figure of the Virgin in various poses of adoration and worship, solidifying her righteous role as the Queen of the Heavens.
- Joy of the Blessed (Canto XXIV, Paradiso)
Upon Beatrice’s calling, the joyful souls which reside in the Heaven of the Fixed Stars surround Dante and circle around him, dancing. The souls share and show Dante the joy that they possess within them. Here, Dante is depicted as surrounded by a purple-blue glow. These colours are often associated with sophistication, comfort, and royalty. Dalí utilises this colour psychology to elaborate further on the joyous atmosphere in this sphere of Paradise.
- Apparition of St. James (Canto XXV, Paradiso)
As he continues in Heaven of the Fixed Stars, Dante wonders if he will ever see Florence again. His hope to further explore the realms of Paradise is juxtaposed with his desire to return to Florence. As he is contemplating these thoughts, St. James appears before the poet, questioning his virtue of hope.
Here, we see a beautiful arrangement depicting Dante and Beatrice. This arrangement is one where Dalí’s penchant for ambiguous imagery reveals itself again: the painting’s splatters and billowing ribbons of colour allow for many interpretations and configurations when imagination is utilised.
- St. Peter and Dante (Canto XXVII, Paradiso)
St Peter, one of the four saints Dante encounters throughout Paradise, is depicted here. He stands tall and majestic over the poet, shrouded in strokes of blue and purple. Inspect the figure of St. Peter a little closer here- the configuration of the robe morphs into a face with a moustache upon closer inspection. The face seems to be a nod to Dalí himself- not a surprising addition, as the artist was known to insert hidden images of himself within his works.
- Faithful Angels (Canto XXIX, Paradiso)
Dante arrives in the ninth sphere of Heaven, also known as the Primum Mobile. Here, Beatrice discusses the Angelic hierarchy, pointing out that the angels they see are the agents of utmost divine good. She describes the faithful angels as ones who present themselves humbly and those created by forces of good.
- The Transcendent Beauty of Beatrice (Canto XXX, Paradiso)
Dante and Beatrice finally begin their ascent to the final realm of the Heavens, Empyrean. Here, Dante is amazed by the sheer beauty that Beatrice reflects. Dante states that Donna’s beauty transcends any other type he has seen. The sweetness of her smile overwhelms Dante, making him unable to correctly recall memories of his experience. As they are now situated in the final sphere, Beatrice’s work of guiding the poet through the realms of Paradise is done here, and she departs from the poet’s side.Dante’s inability to elaborate on the beauty of Beatrice is reflected in the headless representation of the Donna in this painting. Her departure to join the ranks of the blessed is shown by the transparent hue her body has taken, with her robe being the only trace of physicality she has left.
- Arrival in the Empyrean (Canto XXX, Paradiso)
Upon the pair’s arrival in the Empyrean, Beatrice informs the poet that they are no longer a part of the material realm. The Empyrean is a realm of pure light and intellect beyond human comprehension. Dante, in his ascent, finds himself lifted from his natural capacity.
- The Angels of the Empyrean (Canto XXXI, Paradiso)
Dante is amazed by the sights that the Empyrean has to offer- he sees more than a thousand angels rejoicing here, all boasting different levels of brilliance and form. The angels are feasting and dancing, radiating pure joy for Dante and the saints.
- The Archangel Gabriel (Canto XXXII, Paradiso)
The archangel Gabriel is among the blessed angels that reside in the Empyrean. The archangel’s role is to announce God’s will to men. The Gospel of Luke relates the Angel to the annunciation, where he appears to the Virgin to announce the birth of Christ. The Angel is commonly depicted with the image of a branch from Paradise, which the Angel is seen holding in this composition.
- Prayer of St. Bernard to the Virgin Mary (Canto XXXIII, Paradiso)
In the final scene before his ascent into the light of God, St. Bernard offers a prayer on Dante’s behalf to the Virgin Mary to ‘free him from the clouds of his mortality, so highest happiness be shown to him’. The saint points out that Beatrice and many saints congregated in this realm, presenting the souls praying for Dante’s safe ascent to the Virgin.
Photo of Salvador Dalí : Robert Descharnes / © Descharnes & Descharnes sarl 2021