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William Blake created Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest around 1824. It was part of the 102 compositions he created for Dante's Divine Comedy. It is believed that his friend, John Linnell, commissioned him to create drawings based on that series of poems.
Linnell was also a painter. At the time he was commissioned for the work, Blake was already in his sixties. This collection of drawings and watercolour images became his last as he died in 1827.He outlived Blake and died in 1882. His estate agreed to sell all the 102 images to the British National Art Collections Fund. Today, the paintings are at London’s Tate Gallery. In this watercolour image, two people, presumably two men, are walking in a thick forest. The canopies of the trees cover the skyline, giving an impression that they are walking in near pitch darkness. According to the story, one of the men is called Virgil while the other one is called Dante. Virgil wears a long, flowing, aqua-blue dress, while Dante wears a long white robe. They seem to be talking as the one in blue is seen raising his hands.
Background Information of the Image
Dante Alighieri created an epic poem called The Divine Comedy in the early 14th century. He was based in Italy and was a Roman Catholic Christian. His poem tells the story of Dante as he journeys to paradise and passes through hell and purgatory. He takes with him another Roman poet called Virgil to guide him through the journey. Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest is the first of the images that tell the story. In this part of the story, both men enter the forest of sin. The pleasures of this world push him to do against his faith. At this time, Virgil comes to his rescue and shows him how to navigate the world of sin. He is seen raising his hands as if to warn him of impending danger. The thick canopy that covers them shows the corrupted world that does not let the goodness of the Almighty reach the earthlings.
Style of the Painting
This watercolour painting combines various styles, although it was never painted in full. The landscape and imagery used in the masterpiece show that Blake favoured the Romanticism form of art to tell history. However, the drawing has a good portion of freestyle drawing, where he does not follow any rules. A combination of these two gives the story, as Linnell wanted it. It is unfortunate that Blake did not get to complete this and others to perfection.