Review: Botticelli Gives Us Hell As Dante's Inferno Comes Alive

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, Courtauld Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 27 months ago
Review: Botticelli Gives Us Hell As Dante's Inferno Comes Alive Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, Courtauld Gallery 4
Dante meets his ideal woman Beatrice in heaven. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Philipp Allard

Devils with spears torturing damned souls in a pool of boiling pitch. Imagery that can be easily associated with Dante's Inferno, part of his legendary Divine Comedy.

If that isn't enough to get you excited, the drawings are all completed by the great early Renaissance master Botticelli.

This exhibition pulls together a host of drawings by Botticelli, covering all three parts of Dante's trilogy — hell, purgatory and paradise.

Books from the Hamilton collection are also present, including a fabulous bible decorated with plenty of gold.

But it's the drawings that take centre stage. Our favourite shows a gigantic Lucifer with six wings and three heads. The centre head chews on the head of Judas, while the other two heads devour Cassius and Brutus feet first, as punishment for their betrayal of Julius Caesar.

Cruel and ironic punishment abounds with soothsayers having their heads spun around and facing backwards. This recognises their false claims that they could see forward into the future.

These are remarkably delicate drawings so they have faded over time and the writing from the reverse side does leak through.

But don't let the lack of colour put you off, as they are brilliantly detailed. An epic poem brought to life by one of the greatest artists.

The gold in this bible makes it a thing of beauty. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders
A giant Lucifer. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Philipp Allard

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection is on at The Courtauld Gallery until 15 May. Tickets are £9.50 for adults, concessions available. Also on at The Courtauld Gallery is a fantastic Bruegel exhibition, and next door in Somerset House is an exhibition about public art.

Last Updated 22 February 2016

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