Going Through Hell with Dante

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The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC presents Going through Hell: The Divine Dante, a look at how the poet’s masterwork has influenced artists down the ages. Drawing from the Gallery’s own collection, this intimate exhibition opens with a large allegorical portrait of the artist sitting at the edge of a landscape, gazing back at souls ascending the mountain of Purgatory. In his lap, he holds an open book inscribed with the canto describing his desire to escape his own Purgatory of exile by returning to to his beloved Florence. 

A man sits in profile facing our right. He wears a long rose-pink robe with blue sleeves and a scarlet red cap adorned with a laurel wreath. He holds an open book in his laps as he looks toward a distant mountain rising from blue water.
Allegorical Portrait of Dante, late 16th century. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

Nearby is a bronze of Auguste Rodin’s famous The Thinker who represents Dante. This smaller, original version was made for a set of doors depicting the Gates of Hell commissioned for a Paris museum. His equally iconic The Kiss, part of that same commission, stands in the next room. 

Grey and green sculpture of a nude seated man. He faces us and leans forward to rest his chin on his right fist. His other arm drapes across the opposite leg.
Auguste Rodin, The Thinker (Le Penseur), model 1880, cast 1901. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson
A seated nude couple embrace in a passionate kiss. We view this brown-toned bronze sculpture from the front.
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss (Le Baiser), model 1880–1887, cast c. 1898/1902. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson

The doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca are one of several scenes from Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise that line the walls. Early print editions from the Gallery’s rare book collection are showcased in the center display. The works date from the Renaissance up through the 20th century and the exhibition ends with Robert Rauschenberg’s Drawings for Dante’s 700 Birthday, II. B from 1965. Images from newspapers and magazines, layered with broad patches and swipes of color and black ink, combine to form the artist’s own version of hell, emerging from the turbulence and violence of the time.

A collage of black and white photographs and bright color-tinted images fill a long horizontal white surface.
Robert Rauschenberg, Drawings for Dante’s 700 Birthday, II.B, 1965. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Woodward Foundation, Washington, D.C.


Going Through Hell runs through July 16, 2023.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC


FEATURED IMAGE: Detail from The Inferno, after the Fresco in the Camposanto of Pisa, c. 1480/1500. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection.

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