Random Writing for August: L’Inferno di Dante by Michael Mazur – Exhibit Notes

Back in 2011, I was taking a Medieval Civilization class and reading Dante’s Inferno when, as luck would have it, an amazing art exhibit came through the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  It was Michael Mazur‘s series based on Inferno, and I was really blown away by his artistic interpretation of each of the Cantos.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from my full report for this month’s Random Writing, which was supposed to be posted on the last Friday of the month (two days ago), but I didn’t get this finished in time.  Better late than never though, right?  (I admit, I was quite discouraged about my whole writing/blogging journey on Friday, but finishing this piece has helped lift my spirits.)

Here’s an introduction to Mazur’s exhibit from the MIA’s website:

Michael Mazur: The Inferno of Dante
Exhibition Dates: June 11, 2011 – March 11, 2012

In the early 14th century, Dante Alighieri wrote The Inferno, one of the most celebrated poems of all time. Since then, readers have seen themselves and their neighbors in its timeless investigation of human frailty, and artists have repeatedly turned to the poem as a source of inspiration.

In a project that extended through the 1990s, painter/printmaker Michael Mazur and poet Robert Pinsky collaborated on the production of a new illustrated translation of The Inferno. Mazur said that in grappling with Dante, he reinvigorated his own artistic creativity. Pinsky, who became Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, credited Mazur’s imagery with deepening his own understanding of the poem. In a shift from the practice of earlier artists, Mazur did not show Dante travelling through hell; instead, he showed his interpretation of what Dante saw. Mazur’s investigation of The Inferno involved series produced in various mediums culminating in a grand portfolio of etchings, the entirety of which appears alongside a selection of Dante’s verses translated by Pinsky. This is an opportunity to join two gifted modern artists–one working with images, the other with words–in their exploration of the depths of The Inferno, and of the human spirit itself.

— Minneapolis Institute of Art

First up is one of my favorite images from the whole series, from Canto III – The Gate of Hell and Charon, the ferryman, and a shot of the accompanying excerpt from Inferno.  This Canto is the source of the oft-quoted phrase “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Canto III - The Gate of Hell - Charon-1

Canto III Except

Next is the second image from Canto III, one of the few times Mazur devoted more than one canvas to a single Canto.  This one is called On Charon’s Boat, showing the damned souls being ferried across the River Acheron and into Hell.

Canto III ii - On Charon's Boat

The next image I really liked was from Canto VIII, called The Tower – Phlegyas.  This is in the Fifth Circle of Hell, and this burning tower stands on the banks of the River Styx, which the boatman Phlegyas ferries Virgil and Dante across and to the gates of City of Dis, or Lower Hell.

Canto VIII - The Tower - Phlegyas

Next is another of my favorite images from this series, that of Canto XI – Overview of Hell.  In this Canto, the travellers have reached the edge of the Seventh Circle of Hell, and Virgil gives Dante a overview of what’s to come in the further subdivided Seventh, Eighth, and Nineth Circles.

Canto XI - Overview of Hell

These next two are from different points within this set of Circles.  First is from Canto XIII – The Wood of the Suicides, or as Virgil puts it, those who have been violent against themselves, as opposed to the other two subdivisions of the Seventh Circle, for those violent against their neighbors, or those violent against God.  These poor souls have been turned into the trees themselves.

Canto XIII - The Wood of the Suicides

This one is from the fifth subdivision of the Eighth Circle of Hell, called Canto XXI – The Swindlers.  Here, the souls are submerged in a lake of pitch, and should any try to rise out of the depths, they are quickly skewered by demons waiting gleefully with their tridents.

Canto XXI - The Swindlers

There are so many more amazing, creepy, dark, and thought-provoking images in Mazur’s exhibit that I’d love to show you them all, but I think I’ll leave it here now with one final image from his show, and another of my favorites.

This is the only image that has any color, but that’s fitting, as it represents the moment when Dante and Virgil emerge from Hell.  This one is called Canto XXXIV, ‘Once More, The Stars.’

Canto XXXIV ii - 'Once More the Stars'

I hope you enjoyed this tour of Michael Mazur’s artwork, and I hope it inspires you to either go read or re-read Inferno, because it’s a really interesting journey.  Take care, and stay creative!

Image credits:
All artwork is from Michael Mazur‘s exhibit The Inferno of Dante, when it was on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 2011, with photos taken by me

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