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Art / Dante and Virgil in Hell

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Dante and Virgil in Hell (alternatively known as Dante and Virgil) is an 1850 oil on canvas painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The painting depicts Dante and Virgil in Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy looking on as two damned souls are entwined in combat. One of the souls is an alchemist and heretic named Capocchio. In this depiction Capocchio is being bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi who had used fraud to claim another man's inheritance.

The painting is currently on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.


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Dante and Virgil in Hell provides examples of:

  • Alien Sky: The orange sky is a dead-ringer that the painting depicts Hell and not our world.
  • Canon Foreigner: There is no mention of a demon in this scene in the Inferno, but lo and behold, there's one flying over the scene smiling. It helps make the setting clear to anyone that doesn't know this is based on the Inferno.
  • Cower Power: Dante appears to be hiding behind Virgil from the sight of the two damned brutalizing each other. He still seems worried to just be peaking over his guide's shoulder to get a look at what's happening.
  • Darker and Edgier: This painting is a rapid departure from Bouguereau's various female nudes, pastoral genre paintings and his "Cupid and Psyche" series. The bodies are strained and frozen in violence, there is a demonic beast in the background and the entire thing is done in a harsh series of red, brown and orange color motif.
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  • Evil Redhead: Capocchio, the clear aggressor in the portrait, is shown with hair red as Hell. Fitting for a representation of anger and violence.
  • Fan Art: The painting depicts Canto XXX from the first act - "Inferno" - of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, itself an old and beloved work of fiction centuries old.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Despite not being the painting's focus, you can see some of the damned being being tortured in fire in the background, just in case you weren't sure this was Hell.
  • Flourish Cape in Front of Face: Virgil appears to be covering the bottom half of his face with his robes. It's almost as if he's trying to cover his mouth after gasping.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Gianni and Capocchio are fighting with no clothes on whatsoever. Like other Christian art, their nudity in this case is a sign of shame.
  • Good Wears White: Nowhere is Virgil's clothing described in the poem, but Bouguereau here portrays him wearing white robes befitting a virtuous sage such as himself.
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: The devil in the background watching the two damned fight is flying with two large bat wings.
  • Hell: Bouguereau makes it clear the scene is set in Hell by including a stereotypical demon and tinting the entire painting in reds and orange that call to mind a Fire and Brimstone Hell. This puts the horrible violence Capocchio and Shicchi are inflicting on each other in context, and in lieu of other horrors, seems to suggest a Self-Inflicted Hell.
  • Humans Are Bastards: While a demon is present in the painting, all of the suffering generated is between one damned human soul and another. As the lines the painting describes would indicate, the attacker was a man guilty of the sin of fraud that ruined people's lives, attacking Capocchio, a man who practiced alchemy. Gianni has no reason to attack Capocchio personally, but he does it anyway.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: This horrific painting shies away from showing the manhood of its nude subjects in the foreground, but you can actually see a few of the genitals of the damned in the background.
  • Man Bites Man: The centerpiece of the portrait is Capocchio biting Shicchi as the two wrestle. The action is incredibly cruel and animalistic, which is driven home by the two being naked and the way they're senselessly scratching and pulling at each other with their hands.
  • Red Is Heroic: Dante can only really identified by the fact that he's wearing a red hat and red robes, marking him as the main character of The Divine Comedy. This is in keeping with a long tradition of painting Dante in red clothing.
  • Skull for a Head: The background devil's head appears to just be a black skull, making it almost look like The Grim Reaper staring down at men killing each other forever and ever.
  • Slasher Smile: The devil overlooking the scene doesn't seem to have lips and has teeth that look more like razor-like fangs. This leaves him with a permanent and threatening grin as he sees a man bite into the throat of another.


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