Once Dante and Virgil pass through the entrance to Purgatory, the gatekeeper angel warns them not to look back, or they will be ejected and remain outside its wall. They climb along a trough of moving rock up through a gap to emerge on the first terrace of Purgatory, for the spirits of those who suffered from pride, the first of the Seven Deadly Sins.
There is a large marble frieze depicting the antithesis of pride, humility. This starts with the Anunciation to the Virgin Mary, and progresses through history.
The souls of those purging themselves of pride are bent double under the weight of huge boulders on their backs as they chant a modification of the Lord’s Prayer.
Among these is Oderisi da Gubbio, a painter of miniatures who illuminated manuscripts for Pope Boniface VIII and was a colleague of Giotto.
As Dante moves round the terrace, he sees further sculptures showing the famously proud, figures such as Lucifer himself, Niobe whose fourteen children were slain for her pride, and Arachne. She was so proud of her weaving that she challenged Pallas Athena (Minerva) herself to a contest. Although by her achievements Arachne should have won, her tapestries were scathingly critical of the gods, and Athena flew into a rage. Although Arachne’s life was spared, she was transformed into a spider and condemned to spin webs forever.
An angel then ushers them to move up to the next terrace. As he does so, Dante’s forehead is brushed by his wing, and he feels much lighter when that removes one of the Ps which were inscribed on his brow by the gatekeeper angel.
The second terrace of Purgatory contains those souls who have to cleanse themselves of envy, the second of the Seven Deadly Sins. Here, disembodied voices keep flying past to remind the penitents of the value of the opposite of envy, selfless love. The spirits here are like hunting birds under training in that their eyelids are sewn together with iron wire to make them blind.
Sapia, born into the Sienese Salvani family, explains to Dante that she had taken pleasure in the defeat of her fellow Ghibellines and the death of her nephew alongside them.
Various spirits them lament the situation in Italy at the time, before Dante and Virgil are taken on by another angel to the third terrace of Purgatory.
Walter Crane (1845–1915) was an English artist known best for his many illustrations which graced the pages of books in late Victorian Britain. Although a student of John Ruskin and influenced by William Morris, he remained on the periphery of the Pre-Raphaelites. He also painted successfully, inevitably specialising in narrative works. His illustration of Arachne is one of few which explicitly refers to her future life as a spider.
Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the leading French illustrator of the nineteenth century, whose paintings are still relatively unknown. Early in his career, he produced a complete set of seventy illustrations for translations of the Inferno, which were first published in 1857 and continue to be used. These were followed in 1867 by more illustrations for Purgatorio and Paradiso. This article looks at his paintings.
Hippolyte Flandrin (1809–1864) was born into an artistic family in Lyon, France, and trained along with his younger brother in the studios of Louis Hersent and JAD Ingres, who remained a close friend for life. He won the Prix de Rome in 1832, which helped establish his career as a history painter and a sought-after portraitist. He doesn’t appear to have had any particular interest in Dante’s Divine Comedy, though. and this painting appears to be a one-off. He died of smallpox when in Rome in 1864.
Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839) was an Austrian landscape painter, who worked mainly in Neoclassical style. During his second stay in Rome, he was commissioned to paint frescos in the Villa Massimi on the walls of the Dante Room there, which remain one of the most florid visual accounts of Dante’s Inferno. He completed those between 1824-29. He also appears to have drawn a set of illustrations for Dante’s Inferno in about 1808.
Robin Kirkpatrick (trans) (2012) Dante, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, Penguin Classics. ISBN 978 0 141 19749 4.
Richard Lansing (ed) (2000) The Dante Encyclopedia, Routledge. ISBN 978 0 415 87611 7.
Guy P Raffa (2009) The Complete Danteworlds, A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy, Chicago UP. ISBN 978 0 2267 0270 4.
Prue Shaw (2014) Reading Dante, From Here to Eternity, Liveright. ISBN 978 1 63149 006 4.