The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix

The Barque of Dante by romantic painter Eugène Delacroix circa 1822, depicts the Dante's Inferno and his journey with Virgil.
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix (1822)

The Barque of Dante Analysis

Self-Portrait of romantic painter Eugène Delacroix circa 1837, the Barque of Dante, depiciting the journey of italian poet.
Self-Portrait by
Eugène Delacroix (1837)
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix is an oil on canvas painting created in 1822. The large canvas is also known as Dante and Virgil in Hell. The dramatic scene depicts the story of Inferno, the first part of the epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. As one of the most important figures in French Romantic Movement together with Théodore Géricault and Léon Cogniet, Eugène Delacroix finished his artwork for the opening of Salon of 1822. Eugène Delacroix was at age twenty-four while working on the sensational work. The painting is assumed as a major sign for the art critics by pointing out that the young artist was loosely leaving the Neoclassical mastery of Fine Arts and exact drawing. The Barque of Dante was the first work of French painter, made in romantic features. When the Salon of 1822 was opened in April 24 of 1822, The Barque of Dante has become a significant part of the painting series about the Inferno and voyage of Dante and Virgil via its amazing harmony.

French romantic, Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa painting influenced the Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix.
The Raft of the Medusa by
Théodore Géricault (1819)
The famous painting has been hanging in the Salon under the title of “Dante and Virgil led by Phlegyas, Crossing the Lake Surrounding the Walls of the Infernal City of Dis”, which was originally labelled as “Dante et Virgile Conduits par Phlégias, Traversent le Lac qui Entoure les Murailles de la Ville Infernale de Dité”. Delacroix’s talent in fine arts and mastery of exact drawing resembling Michelangelo sketches and inspiring nature of his elder friend Géricault’s paintings, pushed him to synthesise different art disciplines to create the immortal painting. Yet, the Barque of Dante is on a mythical content and subjects, unlikely The Raft of Medusa portrays a real historical event. The illusory historical painting on the imaginary context is in the Louvre Collection with other Eugène Delacroix paintings, such as Liberty Leading the People, Women of Algiers in their Apartment, The Death of Sardanapalus, The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople and the Orphan Girl at the Cemetery.

The Barque of Dante Story in Historical Context

Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix reveals an image of poet Dante Alighieri, known for Inferno and the Divine Comedy poems.
The Barque of Dante
Detail of Dante Alighieri
The Barque of Dante reveals a mythical world over the historical document of famous poet. As it mentions in Inferno, Italian poet Dante Alighieri and Roman poet Virgil continue their way around the Fifth Circle of Hell to the Canto VIII to meet the boatman Phlegyas, who was responsible to make them pass the River Styx by Virgil’s guiding. Phlegyas was king of the Lapiths mythological character in Ancient Greece. According to the allegorical text, the cursed souls due to the sin of anger, was swimming in The River Styx, which written as a black colored toxic water reminding a swamp. The Roman poet Virgil was the most important literary figure of Middle Ages of Roman Empire. His concern and help to Dante is obvious from the eyes of romantic master. Delacroix represents a group of people around the main characters and two of red eyed creatures that subvert the tiny boat. All figures are looking at the oarsman at the backside of their small boat. The facing away man in blue garments is the oarsman Phlegyas.

Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix reveals an image of Italian poet Virgil, who lived in ancient Roman during Augustan period
The Barque of Dante
Detail of Virgil
The blowing clothes of him due the strong wind, represents that was a stormy passage. Delacroix makes the observer imagine a lifting barque because of each bad conditions, such as smokes, waves, winds, gloom and the attack of damned souls under the furnace alike sky depicted red and black. When their barque was lifted to its right, the struggle the characters being in display itself like a snapshot for the viewers. There remains two stark contrast in the painting that reveals different psychological conditions of each figures. While the Dante’s thrillful body language and face mimics represents his fears, Virgil’s confident posture explains his worry for Dante’s life. Another contraposition can be observed from the images of damned creatures overbalancing the wooden boat. The first of these characters is the man who bites the end of the boat aimlessly but with extraordinary concentration, while the other is the monster that tries to sink the boat with one hand inside and with a more insidious facial expression.

Eugène Delacroix's the Barque of Dante painting reveals a depiction of cursed sould in the River Styx in Inferno.
The Barque of Dante
Detail of Desperate Souls
These contrasting depictions may be the helpless cries from sinners who have lost their minds and souls by staying in the Styx River, but also point to a dangerous passage straight ahead from different perspectives. The man with red eyes has been adapted from two different inspiration sources for the romantic artist. The black and white sketch of Charles Le Brun, “La Colère of 1668” and the etching “The Fiery Sepulchres” by John Flaxman had become influential drawings for Eugène Delacroix to create his monster. The artist used theatrical lightning around the main figures, reminding Baroque Period characteristics, such as Caravaggio’s David and Goliath paintings (Madrid, Vienne, Rome). Yet, the use of light and vivid colors at the central part of the large canvas is prominent. The brown tabard of Virgil, light green robe and red hood of Dante and dark blue cape of the oarsman Phlegyas, create a riot of colors together.

Eugène Delacroix's the Barque of Dante painting includes a portrait of boatman Phlegyas, equal of Charon in Greek mythology.
The Barque of Dante
Detail of Phlegyas
According to French art critic Charles Blanc, the white linen clothes mantled as a of the Virgil’s garment should be a marvelous awakening in the middle of the dark. In addition, Adolphe Loève-Veimars stated as this left an unknown effect on the soul when Delacroix's colors utilized filling the features of the Dante’s face and the paints used to depict the heads of sinners. The water drops placed on the bodies of fallen souls is a mark for the Impressionism of early 19th Century. The simple painting technique is based on creating three separate line on same layer respectively yellow, green and red colors. White yellow and green paints were utilized to extend the height of dropping blob, red paint generates the shadow of water drop. According to Delacroix’s most succesful student and assistant Pierre Andrieu, romantic master took his inspiration for the water drops he painted from baroque painting of Peter Paul Rubens “The Disembarkation at Marseilles” or commonly known as “The Arrival of Marie de Medici at Marseilles”. It is a comprehensible situation when considered that Eugène Delacroix has been defined as a Rubenist in Romantic Era, while Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was the leader of Poussanist.

Opinions of Judges and Art Critics about the Barque of Dante

Napoleon Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa by Antoine Jean Gros, a neoclassical painting related to the Barque of Dante.
Napoleon Visiting the Plague
Victims of Jaffa by
Antoine Jean Gros (1804)
The Barque of Dante was a extremely significant art piece among other paintings and etching in the Salon of 1822. According to the judge Étienne-Jean Delécluze, the painting was “a real mess” because of its rich symbolism and mixture of former art movements. The Barque of Dante was touching the Baroque Period over its use of light reminding chiaroscuro around the characters, Neoclassicism over the exact drawings of figures and a historical context portrayed on a vertical line. Despite that blending, the large canvas was still distinguishable thanks to its use of vivid and muted colors together, likewise an anonymous visitor in The Mirror, rendered him an outstanding colourist.

Self-portrait of Antoine-Jean Gros, the French painter, commented the Barque of Dante by Delacroix as chided Rubens.
Self-Portrait by
Antoine-Jean Gros
The Barque of Dante is commented as a chided Rubens by another judge Antoine-Jean Gros, who is famous for neoclassical paintings, such as Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa, Napoleon at the Pyramids and The Battle of Abukir. Yet, the complex painting had been received a positive criticism from the future President of France and a protagonist Adolphe Thiers. In 1822, French Government purchased the influential painting 2000 Francs and transferred it to the Musée du Luxembourg. The painting is assumed as a clue for Delacroix that gives that signals of the artist taking a different tack in terms of art styles and his disegno. The Barque of Dante can be seen as a bridge between Neoclassical Art and Romantic Era in France. The Louvre Museum acquired the artwork in 1874 permanently, ten years after the death of Eugène Delacroix. The Barque of Dante is still one of the most famous paintings of the romantic artist, as a milestone that changed his painting technique and help the creation of Liberty Leading the People.

Eugène Delacroix’s Notes about the Barque of Dante

Portrait of Henriette de Verninac, the sister of romantic painter Delacroix circa by 1799, made by Jacques-Louis David.
Portrait of Henriette de Verninac
by Jacques-Louis David (1799)
The Barque of Dante has been mentioned by the romantic painter in his correspondences. In a letter dated 1821 to his sister and the wife of wife French diplomat Raymond de Verninac Saint-Maur, Madame Henriette de Verninac, romantic artist shares his ambition to have recognition under favour of attending the exhibition in the Salon of 1822. In another letter to his close friend Charles Soulier, the artist mentions the hardwork lasted around three months and finally he was within striking distance to complete his artwork. Eugène Delacroix was in the art studio of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, while working on the story of Dante and Virgil in Hell. The artist met Théodore Géricault in Guérin’s Parisian art studio. Géricault is one of the painters who influenced Delacroix the most. It is seen that he used a face from The Raft of Medusa as a model in his painting to define a man with poor fate.

A replica of The Barque of Dante after Eugène Delacroix by impressionist painter Édouard Manet created between 1854-1858.
The Barque of Dante after Delacroix
by Édouard Manet (1854-1858)
Besides this adaption of past, some successor of later art periods utilized Delacroix’s work to emphasize the Barque of Dante and the influence of romantic painter on themselves. In 19th Century, Édouard Manet, as a prominent figure on shifting Realism to Impressionism, created a copy of the Barque of Dante after Delacroix, with more separated and sharp brushstrokes to create vibrant images. The Manet reproduction painting is dated 1853 and hangs in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA. Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau is also another mythological painting using the same title with Eugène Delacroix’s masterpiece.

The Barque of Dante Painting and Inferno

Depiction of Hell, an illustration made by Sandro Botticelli over the story of Dante's Inferno, a part of the Divine Comedy.
The Map of Hell by
Sandro Botticelli (1485)
The Barque of Dante stands for an allegorical world depiction. According to the Inferno, the first part of the Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedia, there remains nine circles of the Hell and each circle is related to a sin. The first circle refers to Limbo and unbaptized but righteous pagans who do not accept Jesus Christ live in this circle. The first circle is constructed as an inadequate paradise according to Virgil. Second circle is called as Lust, where Dante sees Achilles, Hector, Paris and Helen of Troy. These spirits are swayed back and forth without rest by the terrible winds of a fierce storm. It symbolizes the power of lust to blow unnecessarily and aimlessly. Because lust involves mutual indulgence and is therefore not entirely self centered, Dante sees it as the least repulsive of sins and the most appropriate punishment in Hell. In the third circle Gluttony, the soul  live, who subject their minds to an insatiable appetite.

Cerberus by William Blake illustration maden between 1824-1827, depicts the a three headed dog in Inferno.
Cerberus by William Blake
A three-headed dog named Cerberus beats up the hungry gluttons here and keeps them in a cage. Those who are obsessed with earthly materials are punished in this circle. At the Fourth Circle named Greed, they meed someone Virgil calls Pluto protects them. This person is Plutus, the god of wealth in Roman mythology. Eugène Delacroix’s The Barque of Dante is an illustiration of the Fifth Circle, named Wrath or Anger. In the stinking waters of the Styx River, reminiscent of the swamps, the spirits who are angry with each other while living are being punished.

In the sixth circle, Heresy, Epicurus and those who followed his philosophy, who claimed that the soul also perished with the body, were imprisoned in burning tombs. The Seventh Circle, defined as Violence, is divided into three separate circles. Dante and Virgil flee from a minotaur and quickly move on to the next circle. The Eighth Circle is called the Fraud, and false, malevolent and deceitful spirits live here. The Ninth Circle is constructed as the Treachery. Trapped in the ice on this floor, sinners are punished, each according to his own fault, guilty of treason against those with whom he has special relations.
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix Reviewed by Articonog on February 02, 2022 Rating: 5

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