“Dante’s three-part epic poem portrays the journey souls take after death. Essentially a socio-economic commentary on Florentine life, with strong moral undertones and focus on the human condition, its themes can be adapted to any time. Today, in the face of Covid-19, the 700-year-old Commedia resonates strongly. Now is a perfect time to reflect on the work through its visual depictions. Although countless artists have illustrated the work since its medieval publication – Sandro Botticelli, Gustave Doré, and John Flaxman, to name a few – modern artists have shown how its relevance lives on to this day. Perhaps the most progressive modern rendering of Dante’s epic to date is seen through the work of artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).
“Dante is ambiguous in his writing on the Sodomites, reflecting the reticence surrounding the subject of homosexuality in his day. Rauschenberg mirrors this ambiguity in his illustration with an empty speech bubble beneath a red outline of his own traced foot. The tracing inserts Rauschenberg into the narrative just as Dante the Poet occasionally appears in the text, separate from Dante the Pilgrim, a personal touch that is seldom seen in Commedia illustrations.” [. . .] —Flora Igoe, The Art Story Blog, 2020
See Rauschenberg’s full Inferno series here.