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The Body in the Line: “Trasumanar” in Blake’s Dante


Silvia Riccardi

Dante’s journey in the otherworld has introduced generations of readers to the consequences of the divine judgment, the architecture of sin and salvation, the moral condemnation of materialism, and the pilgrim’s encounter with God. God is the “somma luce” (Par. 33.67) (“eternal beam,” Cary 3: 293), which cannot be grasped by means of human understanding. The blinding light of redemption thus remains a mystery untold in the Commedia. Toward the end of his life, the sixty-seven-year-old William Blake approached Dante’s incommunicable experience by revisiting his poetics of line versus color. For his illustrations to the poem, he worked back and forth on 102 designs, leaving them in various stages of development. From Inferno to Paradiso through Purgatorio, Blake captured the condition of the fallen against the purity of the redeemed. Though the two are treated with the same medium, there is ambiguity in the conception of the human frame. Are the density and articulation of colors and contours in the Dante designs accidental modifications of form, or do they spell out the artist’s own judgment upon the souls?


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