Dante and Virgil
Average: 5 (2 votes)
jcappetta's picture


Bouguereau was the 19th century art world’s golden child who dealt with his repressed sexual feelings with art.

He won all sorts of big awards, sold paintings to robber barons, even Degas, who despised him, said that Bouguereau would probably be the most historically important French artist of the 19th century. But like most prodigies he was probably super repressed and Dante and Virgil in Hell is the damning evidence (damning, get it?).

For a guy who made his legacy painting naked women this early work is a kind of collegiate exploration of his sexuality. Schicci is giving Capocchio the toothiest hickey I’ve ever seen, complete with a suggestive knee in the lower back, pointing us straight to a peachy bottom. Dante’s trying to pray-the-gay-away, but Virgil really wants him to give the action a good look, and that demon seems to think the whole thing is wildly funny.

The Freudian field-day continues with the context. This scene illustrates Canto XXX of Dante’s Inferno. It takes place in a part of hell known as the “evil pouch” and I don’t see any women here so… I mean, come on Bouguereau, where is that romantic subtlety? XXX: Evil Pouch sounds like something that isn’t a large format painting from 1850 but definitely would get you grounded, mom I swear this is for art history class.

S&M homoeroticism is replaced by a more sentimental soft-erotic in the rest of his work. Gauguin considered Bouguereau a “zero” artist until seeing his paintings in a whore-house where he just had to smile. Gauguin also called the brothel-keeper a “magnificent…man of genius” so he either can’t look at a nude without thinking of his peepee or is such a porno-connoisseur that Bouguereau’s mainstream offerings just aren’t smutty enough for him.

Bouguereau did Dante and Virgil in Hell early in his career while he was still a student in Paris. Probably before he learned that mostly men did the buying and patriarchs preferred to hang naked ladies on their walls than naked men. Bouguereau was for the people (or, the rich people that could buy his paintings) and the rich people were for the boys, but like, not that much.




  1. Bertrand, Anne. February 2, 1995. “Gauguin le Rapin: ‘Racontars de Rapin, Suivi de Art de Papou & Chant de Rossignoou’ et ‘la Lutte pour les Peintres.’” Liberation: 2 fevrier, 1995. Accessed June 15, 2017. /02/02/gaug
  2. Gauguin, Paul. Journaux Intimes. Translated by Van Wyck Brooks. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921. Accessed June 15, 2017. ?id=vEs3AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA174#v=onepage&q&f=false
  3. Jensen, Robert. Marketing and Modernism in Fin-de-siècle Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. Accessed June 15, 2017. https://books.go
  4. Jonothan5485. December 8th, 2013. “Adolphe-William Bouguereau. Part 1 – The History Painter and his painting Dante and Virgil.” my daily art display. Accessed Jun 15, 2017. 08/adolphe-william-bouguereau-par
  5. Ross, Fred. “Bouguereau and the Real 19th Century.” Accessed June 15, 2017. Century/thereal19thcentury.php
  6. 2017. “Dante and Virgil in Hell.” Accessed June 15, 2017. in-hell/
  7. Wissman, Fronia E. Bouguereau. Portland: Pomegranate Art Books, 1996. Accessed June 15, 2017. gbs_ book_other_versions

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Dante and Virgil

Dante and Virgil is an 1850 oil on canvas painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It is presently on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The painting depicts a scene from the Divine Comedy which is Dante and Virgil looking on as two damned souls are entwined in combat. One of the souls is an alchemist and heretic named Capocchio. In this depiction Capocchio is being bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi who had used fraud to claim another man's inheritance.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Dante and Virgil.