The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati William Blake Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This artwork brings to life Canto 25 of Dante's Inferno. The figure of Cavalcanti, a common thief, is represented in the form of a serpent and here he readies himself to attack Buoso de' Donati.

The Serpent Attacking Buoso has been re-printed on several occasions and some of these copies have survived to the present day. The original artwork was one of a series of illustrations devoted to the famous texts of Dante's Divine Comedy. This body of work is amongst the artist's most famous artistic contribution, though, of course he also remains highly revered for his poetry as well. This was an extraordinary man who combined an imagination that the likes of which had never been seen before with a strong understanding of the techniques of different mediums. The original illustrations for this series were put together using pen for form and watercolour for detail, with multiple series of prints then being produced afterwards. These sets of copies have helped to promote the brilliance of the original work.

Further information on this artwork can be gleaned from the original texts, but it is important to remember that William Blake was famous for adding his own creativity and not necessarily following the original literature as precisely as he might have done. Someone with this much imagination could simply not avoid imparting his own ideas upon the original written texts, though that is not to suggest anything other than a full respect for the achievements made by Dante. The story tells of how the two thieves would eventually receive the punishment of being turned into a serpent and then back into a man repeatedly for the rest of their days and Blake here attempts to communicate this strange punishment. The plates themselves have been used to produce four different sets of prints over the years, and many of these now reside within public collections in the UK.

This item can be found at the Tate though it is not normally out on display and so special permission must be sought in order to view it in person. It is also dated at 1824–7 which means it would have been one of the artist's very last contributions from an oeuvre which continues to impress both for its quality and also its quantity. Some recent exhibitions devoted to the artist in various UK locations have reminded us all of the importance of this master and also of the breadth of work which he produced across the full length of his career. Visitors to see the Tate's collection can find a number of highlights shared between Tate Modern and Tate Britain including some beautiful examples of the Pre-Raphaelite movement by the likes of Waterhouse, Millais and Rossetti who helped to produce a truly unique body of work within the fairly recent history of British art.

The Serpent Attacking Buoso Donati in Detail William Blake