(b. 1798, Charenton-Saint-Maurice, d. 1863, Paris)

The Barque of Dante

Oil on canvas, 189 x 246 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The first of Delacroix's paintings to achieve true notoriety, Dante and Virgil in Hell or The Barque of Dante, exemplifies a duality that pervaded his entire career. The shared influence of Michelangelo and Rubens is manifest here, but there is also a savour of the revolution so thunderously proclaimed by his friend and elder, Theodore Géricault, in his immortal painting, The Raft of the Medusa (1819).

The Barque of Dante was submitted to the Salon in 1822, and makes clear acknowledgement of its debt to Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa. Indeed, the influence of that painting can be traced for many years afterwards in Delacroix's work, for example, in his Christ on the Lake of Gennesaret (1854) or The Shipwreck of Don Juan (1840). The 'stage-setting' of The Barque of Dante looks forward to Baudelaire's pronouncement that Delacroix is an 'essentially literary' painter. But Delacroix had something much more important to leam from the Raft. In expressing the predicament of the shipwrecked everywhere in the world, Géricault had laid the foundations of an aesthetic revolution. The Raft of the Medusa marks the first appearance in painting of 'the ugly' and thereby proclaims its scrupulous respect for the truth, however repulsive the truth might be. This concern for truth is integral to the Romantic temperament.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 16 minutes):
Franz Liszt: Dante-sonata