Purgatory and Dante's Divine Comedy - PURGATORY ILLUSTRATED

This magnificent fresco, created by Luca Signorelli, is known as “The Angel Arrives in Purgatory.” It is located in the Orvieto Cathedral, at the Chapel of San Brizio, in Orvieto (a town in the Umbria region of Italy). Image online via the Web Gallery of Art. Click on the image for a full-page view.


If there were twelve commentaries on The Divine Comedy by 1400, one can only imagine how many frescoes, illustrations, illuminations, paintings and drawings gave life to the story of Dante and Virgil. As the two traveling companions made their way, they saw the horrors of the Inferno, endured a difficult trek through Purgatory, and observed the glories of Paradise.

In the hands of skilled artists, Dante's words were translated into concepts medieval people could understand. A beautiful painting tends to "uncomplicate the complicated." And in the Middle Ages, when many people did not read at all, they learned from pictures. If ecclesiastical authorities wanted the laity to believe in Purgatory, illustrations of Dante's work must have greatly helped.

Taking a virtual trip to the Chapel of Notre-Dame de Benva (in the Provence village of Lorgues, France), we see Purgatory illustrated in descriptive detail. A fresco on the inner part of the entrance wall depicts Purgatory, where penitent souls are temporarily imprisoned and tortured by fire. Since they are not in Hell, however, these souls can—and do—receive help from Angels who give them water to drink and refresh themselves. And, since the jail has no roof, some of the redeemed are leaving this temporary place to make their way to Heaven.

With more color and detail, Luca Signorelli created magnificent Dante-inspired frescoes at the Chapel of San Brizio in the Italian Cathedral of Orvieto. His work is remarkable not only for its beauty but for the speed at which it was created:

Signorelli also used his creative genius to depict scenes from the Inferno and Paradise. A chapel window separates the two parts of this stunning fresco:

The Elect Being Called to Paradise and the Damned Being Plunged into Hell.

Michelangelo, a contemporary and fellow Italian, greatly respected Signorelli's style. Details from the above fresco show us why:

  • In the calmness of "The Elect," we see peace and joy on the faces of people called to Heaven.

It isn't only Renaissance painters who captured the essence of Dante's words. Since The Divine Comedy was first published, nearly seven centuries ago, it has provided inspiration for many artists—even into the modern era.

Especially noteworthy is the art of a nineteenth-century book illustrator from France—Gustave Doré—who created hundreds of outstanding illustrations. Thanks to the University of Arizona, we can view some of his best work on-line.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2004

Updated Last Revision: Jun 23, 2019

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"PURGATORY ILLUSTRATED" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2004. Feb 27, 2020.
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