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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: "Dante faints after hearing Francesca's story"
Medium: Watercolor
Dimensions: 10 7/8 x 16 inches (27.6 x 40.6 cm)
Credit Line: Acquired through the generosity of Marilyn Friedland, Class of 1965, and Lawrence Friedland, and through the Frank and Margaret Robinson Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Endowment
Object Number: 2011.085
Label Text: Felice Giani’s knowledge of Dante Alighieri’s trecento epic poem, The Divine Comedy, served as inspiration for a multitude of drawings. Giani was especially interested in illustrating episodes from Dante’s Inferno, in which the author travels to hell and witnesses the postmortem fates of his sinful contemporaries.

This highly finished, dramatic drawing depicts Paolo Malatesta and Francesca di Rimini, a brother- and sister-in-law whose torrid affair and subsequent murder at the hands of Giovanni (Paolo’s brother and Francesca’s husband) was immortalized in the fifth canto of the Inferno. As illustrated by Giani, Dante’s story finds the couple trapped in the second level of hell, where adulterers were doomed to eternal tempest. Giani elevates the drama by showcasing Dante fainting into the arms of his companion, Virgil, as the souls of the condemned, permanently frozen into embraces, swirl in a gray gust of wind. A nude Paolo and Francesca are bound together by a thin drapery that wraps around—but does not conceal—the lustful couple’s genitals. Paolo’s remorseful expression and Francesca’s conversational gesture indicate that they have just finished recounting their tale.

Giani may have conceived this drawing to pair with a depiction of Paolo and Francesca’s murder, now in Hamburg. While both works are similarly sized and maintain great continuity in figural depictions—especially in Francesca’s visage and hairstyle—Giani purposefully utilizes a warm-toned palette to depict an unsuspecting couple in the throes of passion, whereas the present drawing renders the bleak ‘reality’ of hell in stark grays and ice blues. ("FIGURE/STUDY: Drawings from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art," text by Brittany R. R. Rubin and presented at Carlton Hobbs, LLC January 25-February 2, 2019)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.