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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.



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Here is what Wikipedia says about Dante and Virgil

Dante and Virgil is an 1850 oil on canvas painting by the French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It is on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

The painting depicts a scene from Dante's Divine Comedy, which narrates a journey through Hell by Dante and his guide Virgil. In the scene the author and his guide are looking on as two damned souls are entwined in eternal combat. One of the souls is an alchemist and heretic named Capocchio. He is being bitten on the neck by the trickster Gianni Schicchi, who had used fraud to claim another man's inheritance.

It was Bougereau's third and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome, even though he had submitted a work that he knew would appeal to the judges. He did however succeed in his efforts later in the year when Shepherds Find Zenobia on the Banks of the Araxes won the consolation second prize of the year.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Dante and Virgil