Matthew Gagne

The story of Paolo and Francesca is derived from the tale of Dante's Inferno in which the narrator Dante travels through the circles of hell with his guide, Virgil. Dante also travels through purgatory and even through heaven, but his exploration through the inferno is one that many artists of the nineteenth century were particularly drawn to. The story of Francesca da Rimini falling in love with her husbands' brother, Paulo Malatesta, and proving guilty of committing the act of adultery landed these two in the level of hell, from lust. There are two artists in particular that favored the tale of Paolo and Francesca, Ary Scheffer and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, I will be focusing on Scheffers' 1856 depiction in comparison to Ingres' 1814 depiction.

Both of these artists dedicated their lives to creating art in which aimed to please them and reflected their inner process rather than just art that satisfied the critics of the time. Both became internationally known in their lifetime as well as financially stable due to their artistic abilities and ruthless dedication. Scheffer was born into an artistic family and the Dutch artist started making a name for himself very early on in his life. Though recognized early on, there was only one painting that without a doubt defined his name, Francesca da Rimini or better known as Paolo and Francesca. Talk of this painting made its introduction around the early 1820's but wasn’t exhibited until around 1835. This piece immediately became popular and motivated Scheffer to paint many more interpretations of this imagery throughout his lifetime. These recreations, ten of which we know of, became successful on an international scale and spread from England and throughout Europe by means of engravings, commonly known as printmaking. This is similar to the history and recognition of Ingres at the same point in time. Ingres was also observed for his imagery of the tale of Paolo and Francesca, but for a different reason. To start, Ingres was famous for many, many various paintings and not solely praised for Paolo and Francesca. Rather than creating one painting of this couple, becoming famous and then creating more because of the popular response, Ingres’ events unfolded much differently. Ingres was actually misunderstood during his time and almost if you will, notorious for making multiples of the same painting. He was looked down upon and viewers were often uncomfortable with his constant reconstruction of the same figures and recreation of paintings over and over. He kept trying new compositions, but was never fully satisfied (Siegfried 2009, 53). Just as engravings of Scheffers work were being made, lithographs, another style of printmaking, of Ingres' Francesca were being made. One in particular influenced Ingres' decision to switch Francesca on the left, and Paolo on the right, to the reverse of the figures compositionally.


Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. Figure 4.
Jean‐Auguste‐Dominique Ingres, Odalisque with Slaves (detail), 1839)