Painting of the Week / Thomas Abbs

Painting of the Week: 14

Francesca da Rimini

Ary Scheffer, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil (1835), oil on canvas, 166.5 x 234 cm, Wallace Collection.

Itchy socks aside, is there anything worse than being tormented by the ineffaceable memory of the joy and pleasure of the embraces once shared with a lover?

It is this torment that Ary Scheffer depicts in one of his most admired works, Francesca da Rimini – a second (1854) and third version (1855) can be seen at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Louvre in Paris. A story from Dante’s Inferno, the painting shows Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, during their passage through Hell, looking upon the tragic figures of Paolo and Francesca, condemned with the souls of the lustful to the stormy darkness of hell’s second circle. Forced to marry the ugly Gianciotto da Rimini, Francesca falls in love with his handsome younger brother, Paolo. Seeing Paolo kiss Francesca whilst they are reading together an account of the love of Sir Lancelot for Queen Guinevere, Gianciotto murders the both of them.

The tragic story of the adulterous lovers became a popular subject with artists from the late 18th Century onwards, perhaps most famously depicted by Dante Gabriel Rosetti in 1855, as well as being the inspiration behind a symphonic poem by Tchaikovsky in 1876.

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