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.
Though he would not win the Prix with this work — he would finally win with his a later work, Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes — the painting was well recieved. Critic Théophile Gautier would describe 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!”