Gustave Doré: The angel (1861–1868)


An engraving by the French artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883). This print shows a scene from the book 'The Divine Comedy', a poem written between 1308-1320 by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). The Divine Comedy is a narrative poem in which Dante himself undertakes a journey through the afterlife: from Hell (Inferno) to Purgatory to Heaven (Paradiso) in which he ends up before God himself. This scene is from the first part, Inferno. Dante and his guide, the spirit of the Roman poet Virgil, are travelling through Hell and are coming to the city of Dis which encompasses the lowest part of Hell itself. The city itself is guarded by demons, fallen angels, the three Furies and medusa who shut the gate of the city before the duo. Dante falls into despair, fearing he is stranded in Hell for eternity. His guide Virgil however ensures Dante that God will come to the rescue:

Now, over the turbid waves, there came a fearful crash of sound, at which both shores trembled; a sound like a strong wind, born of conflicting heat, that strikes the forest, remorselessly, breaks the branches, and beats them down, and carries them away, advances proudly in a cloud of dust, and makes wild creatures, and shepherds, run for safety. Virgil uncovered my eyes, and said: ‘Now direct your vision to that ancient marsh, there, where the mists are thickest.’ Like frogs, that all scatter through the water, in front of their enemy the snake, until each one squats on the bottom, so I saw more than a thousand damaged spirits scatter, in front of one who passed the Stygian ferry with dry feet. He waved that putrid air from his face, often waving his left hand before it, and only that annoyance seemed to weary him. I well knew he was a messenger from Heaven, and I turned to the Master, who made a gesture that I should stay quiet, and bow to him. ow full of indignation he seemed to me! He reached the gate, and opened it with a wand: there was no resistance. On the vile threshold he began to speak: ‘O, outcasts from Heaven, why does this insolence still live in you? Why are you recalcitrant to that will, whose aims can never be frustrated, and that has often increased your torment? What use is it to butt your heads against the Fates? If you remember, your Cerberus still shows a throat and chin scarred from doing so.’ Then he returned, over the miry pool, and spoke no word to us, but looked like one preoccupied and driven by other cares, than of those who stand before him. And we stirred our feet towards the city, in safety, after his sacred speech. (The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto IX:64-105)

The engraving shows the angel opening the gate of the city of Dis for Dante and Virgil. The souls of the damned cover their eyes and flee before the Holy Light of the angel. Engraving from 1861-1868.