Dante’s Inferno art exhibition marks 700 years since poet’s death

Sandro Botticelli's 'Map of Hell'

ROME - A collection of over 200 Inferno-themed artworks opened to the public on Friday, in celebration of the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri who died seven centuries ago this year. Inaugurated on Wednesday by President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, the novel exhibition will be shown in the Scuderie del Quirinale from Friday until Jan. 9.

 The idea was conceived by art historian Jean Clair and together with colleague Laura Bossi they curated the exhibition around the theme of the Inferno universe - its landscapes, its inhabitants and its symbolism over the centuries. The ambitious project aims to highlight the ultimate meaning of Dante's great theological-allegorical fresco - to show humanity the path of liberation from misery, "the flowerbed that makes us so ferocious" (Par. XXII, 151), towards a condition of happiness and salvation.

 It consists of more than two hundred works of art on loan from over 80 large museums and from private collections in Italy, the Vatican, France, the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

 The collection confronts distinct themes and subjects along a transversal chronology. These include the origin of hell as the kingdom of Lucifer and the judgment that condemns the damned to dwell there forever after death, the multifaceted nature of the devil and the temptations with which he tries to attract us, and the earthly transliteration of hell in the ravages of war.

 After passing the culmination of evil, the exhibition turns to the idea of ​​salvation, as Dante explores in the last verse of the Canticle, “and then we went out to see the stars again.”

This section is entirely dedicated to the tendency, not only in Christianity but every humanism, to look up again - the universe, the infinite, the absolute, God. A gesture of poetic liberation and salvation from claustrophobic nightmares of hell, indicating the way to the reconquest of a new humanity.

  The collection presents a unique opportunity to admire works of significant historical and artistic value. For the first two weeks of the collection only, there is the rare opportunity to see Sandro Botticelli's Infernal Voragine, on loan from the Vatican Apostolic Library. Other spectacular works include a full-scale, 7-meter high plaster cast of the famous Hell Gate by Auguste Rodin, on loan from the Musée Rodin in Paris; the Final Judgment by Beato Angelico, The Temptations of Saint Anthony the Abbot by Jan Brueghel, Lucifer by Franz Von Stuck and Sternenfall by Anselm Kiefer.

 There are numerous significant institutional collaborations from across Europe, including with the Uffizi Galleries, the Musée d'Orsay, the Royal Academy in London, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid and the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon.

 Clair and Bossi commented, “to worthily celebrate the seventh centenary of Dante Alighieri's death with an art exhibition, the theme of Hell has emerged. Not only because it has inspired countless artists and had a lasting impact on European visual culture, but also for its relevance in a world where the destruction of nature, and social and cultural crises have lead us to reflect on the destiny of humanity.”

 “Whether expressed in the dark warnings of eternal suffering in medieval miniatures, in the encounter with a satanic universe made of earthly tragedies in Renaissance and Baroque art, in the torments of the soul depicted in romantic and symbolist canvases, or in modern psychiatric interpretations of the mystery of evil, the belief in the possibility of eternal damnation has proved extraordinarily persistent, exerting terror, pity, morbid fascination and scientific curiosity.”