1828: Sala Dante

Joseph Anton Koch - Inferno, Casino Massimo (1825-28)

Joseph Anton Koch’s frescos of Dante’s Inferno (1825-28) decorate the Sala Dante in the Casino Massimo, a Roman Villa. Several scenes from the poem are illustrated here, including Dante and Virgil’s ride on the monster Geryon (upper right) and Count Ugolino gnawing on the head of Archbishop Ruggieri (bottom left).


Another wall features the opening moments of the Divine Comedy:

Joseph Anton Koch - Selva Oscura, Casino Massimo (1825-28)

Halfway down the road of life
Found me in a dark wood.
I’d lost my way.

It was, the forest—it’s so hard to say—
Painful, overpowering, primeval.
Just the thought brings back my fear—

Death is just a bit more bitter.
However, to explain the good I found there,
I will describe the other things I saw.

I can’t rightly say how I got there;
I was so sleepy at the moment
I strayed from the right road.

Above the door, Dante encounters three allegorical beasts that block his path:

After I rested my tired body a little
I set out again from the desert shore—
My firmer foot always the lower.

But behold!—just where the ascent began:
A panther light and fleet,
Covered with a spotted skin,

Never moving from in front of my face.
She blocked my path so much
I had to turn back again and again….

[Then] A lion appeared to me,

Coming at me, it seemed,
With his head uplifted, ravenous,
So that it seemed the air shivered—

And a starving wolf,
Heavy with hunger—
She had brought sorrow to so many.

To the right, the soul of the poet Virgil appears, soon to become Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory:

As I ran down into the valley,
Before my eyes appeared a man
Whose voice seemed faint from long silence.

When I saw him in that vast desert,
I cried out: “Have pity on me,
Whatever you are—man or ghost!”

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