Obelisk Art History

Dante and Virgil in Hell

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1850
Dante and Virgil in Hell, William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Dante and Virgil in Hell, zoomed in
280.5 cmDante and Virgil in Hell scale comparison225.3 cm
See Dante and Virgil in Hell in the Kaleidoscope

Dante and Virgil in Hell is an Academic and Neoclassical Oil on Canvas Painting created by William-Adolphe Bouguereau in 1850. It lives at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Demons, Afterlife and The Divine Comedy. SourceDownload

William-Adolphe Bouguereau was known for bright, sexy, crowd-pleasing paintings—he only made one piece that might be considered a work of terribilita or ‘horrific’ art. Dante and Virgil in Hell was painted in a third attempt to win the Prix du Rome, and depicted one of the judges’ favorite themes, a scene from The Inferno, where Dante and Virgil watch a gristly fight between two damned souls.

Bouguereau was not awarded the Prix for this work, (he finally won with his later work, Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes) but the painting was well received. Critic Théophile Gautier described the piece, saying: “Gianni Schicchi throws himself at Capocchio, his rival, with a strange fury, and Monsieur Bouguereau depicts magnificently through muscles, nerves, tendons and teeth, the struggle between the two combatants. There is bitterness and strength in this canvas–strength, a rare quality!”

Reed Enger, "Dante and Virgil in Hell," in Obelisk Art History, Published November 25, 2015; last modified October 11, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/william-adolphe-bouguereau/dante-and-virgil-in-hell/.

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Bouguereau and America, Recommended Reading

Bouguereau was a one of the top dogs of the French art world, but this unique book documents how and why his work absolutely exploded in the United States (insert bougie pun here)

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