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DANTE’S TOPOGRAPHER: WILLIAM BLAKE’S ILLUSTRATIONS TO THE DIVINE COMEDY

 

 

Hayley Flynn

 

 

This article considers William Blake’s illustrations to Dante and the prominence of landscape imagery in the artist’s designs. Blake’s emphasis on the topography of the Divine Comedy is unprecedented in the history of Dante illustration and his drawings therefore represent the most significant attempt to visualise Dante’s epic in a coherent spatial setting. As this article shows, the series is, on the one hand, intrinsically linked to the great revival of Dante that occurred in England in the early nineteenth century, but it also seems to have been conceived as a conscious departure from the established modes of representation – namely John Flaxman’s highly acclaimed outline illustrations. Blake’s apparent preoccupation with the physicality of Dante’s journey is discussed both in terms of the viewer’s subsequent interpretation of the narrative and Blake’s characterisation as a ‘visionary’ artist. 

 

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