Introduction "Bukovac and Dante"

The Divine Comedy, Dante’s monumental epic poem, was composed in the early 14th century. Structured in tercets consisting of three eleven-syllable lines in interlocking rhyme – with an additional line at the end of each canto – it stands out as one of the most significant works of Italian literature. In 100 cantos divided into three parts – Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise – Dante recounts an imagined three-day journey accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil and Beatrice, a woman he met in his early childhood who symbolises grace and purity. Dante originally titled his work simply Comedy, a term in medieval poetics used to describe a narrative poem written in the vernacular, the “language spoken even by women.” It is an epic poem that, although it begins sorrowfully, ends happily. The adjective divine was added later by readers and interpreters, and in the mid-16th century, it was titled La divina commedia in a Venetian edition, and since then it has borne this exalted name.

Francesco de Sanctis, an Italian literary historian, remarking on the literary genre of this masterpiece, noted: “It has epic elements, yet it transcends the epic genre; it portrays lyrical situations, yet it surpasses mere lyricism; it has a dramatic plot, yet it exceeds the bounds of drama. It is one of those monumental and original constructions that are true encyclopaedias, national bibles; not confined to a specific genre, but embodying a comprehensive whole that, perhaps unwittingly, encompasses all poetic motifs and forms, serving as the seed for all subsequent development.”

Tvrtko Kulenović, a Bosnian-Herzegovinian writer, describes the Divine Comedy as a visionary text, representing an allegorical portrayal of the medieval conception of the afterlife that aligns with Christian understanding of sin. Besides its profound medieval symbolism, Dante infuses the poem with modern humanistic elements, offering a depiction of the spiritual, political, and cultural landscape of his time.

The fascination with the intricate themes found in Dante’s works has been present in our art since the time of the Renaissance master of miniature art, Julije Klović, but the complete revival of Dante’s oeuvre as an inevitable motif in art took place during the 19th century. Isidor Kršnjavi stands out as a significant figure in Croatian art history, who undoubtedly fostered and shaped the interest in Dante among our artists in the late 19th century. This versatile erudite, art historian, painter, and writer, who also served as the head of the Department of Religious Affairs and Education, translated and supplemented Dante’s Divine Comedy with commentaries. His assertion that supernatural things are revealed through visions and dreams influenced the artistic expression of many Croatian painters.

Vlaho Bukovac was not exempt from this trend. In his painting trilogy – Paradise, Purgatory, Inferno – Bukovac explored Dante’s method of looking through the crimson-tinted atmosphere.

Each of the three parts is depicted using distinct colours and emotional tones.

Consequently, Inferno is characterised by dark and sombre hues, portraying horror, suffering, and eternal darkness. 

This journey begins at an unspecified location, progressing towards hell through a vast funnel in the underworld. Descending towards the Earth’s core, the funnel gradually constricts, housing sinners across nine levels based on the nature and severity of their transgressions. At the very heart of the Earth resides Lucifer, the ruler of hell.

After the infernal horrors, Dante’s symbolic odyssey of the sinful man continues in Purgatory. Dante situates his Purgatory atop a lofty mountain, set on an island surrounded by the ocean, directly across from Jerusalem. Sinners, much like those in hell, are arranged according to the gravity of their offenses, albeit in reverse order – those with the most severe sins dwell at the bottom, while those with lesser sins ascend towards the summit. The area nearest to hell, known as ante-Purgatory, lies at the lowest point, while the Earthly Paradise occupies the highest position. Between them lies a realm divided into seven circles, each corresponding to one of the seven deadly sins. Here, suffering is adjusted to match the severity of the sins committed. Unlike in hell, souls in Purgatory advance through these circles with the assistance of angels until they undergo their ultimate purification. Dante continues to be guided through Purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil, the epitome of poetry and wisdom. Light illuminates Purgatory as an indication of paradise; it is a space inhabited by reflective souls where thoughts of human suffering yield to the hopeful prospect of salvation. Souls move in tranquil groups, bearing resemblance to one another, amidst an atmosphere saturated with feelings of repentance and hope.

Paradise is the most abstract part of the trilogy. In paradise, unlike hell and purgatory, souls are formed and anticipate Dante’s thoughts in advance, since the purpose of his journey is known to them.

Paradise consists of light, music, and movement, or rhythmic motion like dance. The most intense element of paradise is light, in all its forms, and Dante struggles to adjust to such an overwhelming brightness because his eyes are too weak. Dante described paradise as nine astrologically determined heavens named after stars and planets, which revolve around the Earth. The first heaven is the Moon – where the souls of those who have completely fulfilled the requirements reside, followed by Mercury – the souls of those who have performed good deeds for earthly glory, then Venus – the souls of those who have been too susceptible to love, the Sun – learned individuals or saints like Thomas Aquinas and the twelve theologians, Mars – the souls of those who defended Christ’s faith with weapons, Jupiter – the souls of the gentle and just, Saturn – the souls of thinkers, followed by the sphere of the fixed stars, and finally, the ninth, the crystalline or First Mover (Primum Mobile) which moves all the others. Lastly, above all the heavens, there is the immaterial and infinite Empyrean, where, among the blessed, Beatrice also resides. They seek bliss and offer prayers to Mary, the most renowned among all the blessed. The love, light, and joy that permeate the entirety of paradise symbolise the omnipresence of God.

Museums and galleries of Konavle consist of the:

Konavle County Museum, House Bukovac, Department of Archaeology and Račić Mausoleum.

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