SIGNORELLI, Luca
(b. ca. 1450, Cortona, d. 1523, Cortona)

Dante and Virgil Entering Purgatory

1499-1502
Fresco
Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

The only one of the busts of philosophers and poets that can be identified with certainty is Dante Alighieri, and some of the loveliest and most famous of the monochromes are illustrations of episodes from the Divine Comedy - for the most part from Purgatory. In these Orvieto frescoes Signorelli proves that he is a talented illustrator of Dante, but what is truly fascinating is that he has succeeded in giving an interpretation of the Divine Comedy that is evocative and visionary, so similar to more modern styles that one can't help but compare it to the work of such artists as Fuseli, Blake, Gustave Doré. If one is still searching for evidence of Luca Signorelli's inventive genius and of his astonishing versatility, then these decorations will provide it.

The decorative scheme is the following.

The series begins below the fresco of the Antichrist, with Homer and three episodes of Iliad. Below the Apocalypse Empedocles, the philosopher of Agrigento, who leans out to watch the scenes of his prophecy. The series of the poet goes on below the painting of the Resurrection, where Lucan is represented, with two scenes of Pharsalia (The slaughter of the Pompeians and the murder of Pompey).

The figure of Horace is surrounded by four medallions, in which some stories taken from Hades are narrated. It seems that Ovid - in the following panel - is speaking to an invisible interlocutor. The four scenes represent episodes of the metamorphoses. Virgil looks amazed aat the scene of the Damned. Dante - with some sccenes taken from the first two cantoes of Purgatory - is working. Other two medallions represent the martyrdom of St Faustine and SDt Peter Parenzo killed by hte heretics of Orvieto (1190).

This picture shows Dante and Virgil Entering Purgatory.