From the shell containing the planet Venus, Dante and Beatrice pass from the shadow of the earth into the full light of the Sun, which occupies the next shell in their outward and upward journey through heavenly Paradise. Beatrice prompts Dante to thank God in prayer, following which they are surrounded by a wheel of sparkling souls, representing the wise.
From among them, Saint Thomas Aquinas introduces himself, and his eleven companions ranging from his spiritual mentor Albert the Great, through King Solomon and Boethius, to one of his theological opponents.
Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican, and next outlines the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Another wheel of spirits appears and encircles them, from which Bonaventure comes to them and outlines the life and achievements of Saint Dominic. He has eleven companions too.
Just as a third wheel of spirits starts to form in the early evening sky, Dante and Beatrice move upward to the next shell, containing the planet Mars. Here Dante sees a cross formed from the souls of holy warriors, as two shafts of light.
Dante is greeted at the foot of the cross by his great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida, a pious and righteous man who died ‘fighting for God’ in the Second Crusade.
Cacciaguida foresees that Dante will be caught between the politics of Florence and the Pope, and gives him advice as to how to cope with his future exile from the city of Florence. Finally, Cacciaguida identifies to Dante various holy warriors including Joshua, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon, then believed to have been responsible for the (re)capture of Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade.
Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia (c 1403-1482) was a prolific Italian painter who worked primarily in Siena, and was one of the more important members of the early Sienese School. He started work painting miniatures, later making some important altarpieces as well. He created sixty-one images of Paradise for the “Yates Thompson” Dante commissioned by King Alfonso V, and now in the British Museum in London.
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.
Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) was a German painter who, like Philipp Veit, joined the Nazarenes. By coincidence, over the same period that Veit was painting his ceiling in the Casa Massimo in Rome, Overbeck was busy on a magnificent fresco telling the story of Torquato Tasso’s epic of Jerusalem Delivered in another room there. The detail shown above is of the thanksgiving made by the crusaders after they had recaptured the city of Jerusalem. Peter the Hermit stands holding the crucifix, as Godfrey of Bouillon, still wearing his armour, sinks on bended knee.
Philipp Veit (1793–1877) was a German Romantic painter who was partly responsible for the revival of fresco techniques in the early nineteenth century. He was a pupil of Caspar David Friedrich in Dresden, and later trained in Vienna. A prodigious draftsman, he preferred watercolours to oils. He went to Rome where he joined the Nazarenes, later returning to Frankfurt, where he became professor.
Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) was one of the great Spanish Masters, whose life and career I have detailed recently. The painting above shows a popular legendary episode in the life of Thomas Aquinas. According to contemporary accounts, the saint’s family wanted him to withdraw from the Dominican Order, so he was abducted and brought home, where his brothers sent a woman to his room in a bid to tempt him to break his vow of chastity. Thomas responded by taking a burning log from the fire, drawing the sign of the cross with it, and chasing the woman away. He then fell into a deep sleep, during which two angels visited him and secured a belt around his waist as a sign of his chastity.
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.