Mon, 22 Feb 2016
Botticelli Draws Dante

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out.

The Courtauld are showing Botticelli's drawings of Dante's Divine Comedy, and they're very good.

These drawings were part of a whole collection sold by the 12th Duke of Hamilton to the Berlin Kupferstichkabinet museum in 1882 to cover his gambling debts: a real loss many people tried to prevent at the time.

Showing thirty illustrations, drawn in silverpoint, pen and ink between 1480-1495, they are beautifully detailed and realised pieces. The number of figures drawn and the detail is remarkable: more remarkable if you pick up one of the free magnifying glasses available, which I thoroughly recommend.

Not just hell, but purgatory and paradise are present, with Botticelli seemingly having a lot of fun drawing some of the grotesque devils and torments in Dante's classic. Amazing work.

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection is on at The Courtauld Gallery until May 15th 2016.

I have to confess that, athough I tried, I could not finish Dante's Divine Comedy. I bought the recent Clive James translation (seeing such good reviews) but had a lot of trouble with it. For a start, there are no footnotes, so one can get lost with the various allusions and characters in the journey. Second, the prose seems fairly repetitive to me. No doubt it is different in Italian (of course), and the translation did have some wonderful language in parts, but I found it tough going, so stopped. I would like to try again sometime.