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Dante and Virgil in the Second Circle in Hell, 1823
After Asmus Jacob Carstens
Pen, ink and watercolour on paper. 765 x 1050 mm
Inventory number: D684
In this watercolour, Joseph Anton Koch portrays a scene from the Divine Comedy by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who lived from 1265 to 1321. With this great work of literature, Dante sought to sum up the entire medieval world of ideas, into which he himself was born. He makes an excursion through the three partial worlds constituting this world, Hell, Purgatory and Paradise – first in the company of the pre-Christian Roman poet Virgil and then with Beatrice. In the foreground right, Dante is seen wearing a red cloak and Virgil with a laurel wreath on his head. From the small projecting cliff the two wanderers can look into the middle distance, where the torments of Hell are described in all their horror. For the carnal lusts to which they have surrendered in life, people are punished by being sent whirling about in a vast, terrifying turbulence that casts them hither and thither. Many of these figures can be identified: Floating towards Dante and Virgil we can see the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Then there is Dido on a funeral pyre, Cleopatra with the asp at her breast and, further back, Achilles, Paris and Helena. High up in the background, there are glimpses of the poets, philosophers and heroes of antiquity.