20.01.2020 in Literature

The Bark of Dante

The Bark of Dante was a painting that was made in 1822. The painting is loosely based on various fictional accounts that are drawn from Canto eight of Dante’s Inferno. It is characterized by an arrangement of figures that can be seen to comply with the tenets of the reflective neo-classicism that dominated the French culture for four decades. It might be a hard task to explain the exact time and place where The Bark of Dante was created because there is no formal information available today regarding this. However, it is a well-known fact that it was the first important work of the artist. Moreover, it was intentionally made for the Salon. Nowadays, the devotees of the art of Romanticism can see the painting in the Louvre in Paris. 

Who Made It?

The Bark of Dante was created by Eugene Delacroix. He was an artist involved in the art of painting since the age of 17 years, and he had painting experience through various decorations that he worked on in his younger days. His works have been mostly influenced by the traveling that he was engaged throughout his life as well as various aspects of nature that had far-reaching effects on him such as romanticism.

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Why the Artist Made It

Delacroix made this work to depict a definite force and express romanticism, basing his creativity on the visionary writing of the Italian poet known as Dante. Thus, he wanted to progress his belief in romanticism, something that was marked from Neoclassicism’s embracement of the civilizations of the ancient Greece and Rome. He also wanted to focus on all the damned souls who usually end up in hell and depict the suffering and torment that they go through. He wanted to compare the idea of humanity and nature, focusing specifically on the strength and power of nature over humanity. Additionally, Delacroix wanted to put his imagination into the test to see the extent in which the idea that he concocted would react to his thoughts and emotions after the final product. 

Artist’s Relationship with the Subject

Delacroix has a close relationship with romanticism because he belongs to the movement of romanticism. This means that he had to use science differently from others to further the cause of romantics and people who were interested in emotions. This means that the work of art that was progressed by Delacroix is a reaction to the neoclassical movement that was preceded by romanticism. His relationship with the subject matter of his painting is that he was a romantic, and he always wanted to flirt with the various themes of the self-glorification of men, the part that man played in nature, the divinity that is possessed by nature as well as emotions. He had a close relation with the subject because Romanticism emphasized an individual sense of individual creativity and the value of art to make sense. Delacroix valued art a great deal, and this explains the reason that attracted him to work on this subject.

Additionally, just as the subject itself, Delacroix was a painter who reflected in the ideas of self-realization through the basic act of contemplating nature. He was full of ideas that an individual is capable of directly understanding nature being free from the society. He also believed that peace came from the hard work of an individual but not through political movements. Romantic painters are depicted as being part of a complex and complicated multimedia philosophical movement that allowed for intellectual and visual arts. This was also one way in which Delacroix related with the subject and decided to work on it in his painting. 

What the Work Is About and What the Purpose of the Work Was?

The Bark of Dante is a painting that measures 96.85 wide and 74.41 high. It is painted on canvas with oil. The piece is painted flat, and there is nothing stuck on. Nevertheless, the technique chosen by the artist serves to make his painting more attractive and artistic. The painting depicts Dante swimming in a boat in Hell. In his journey, he learns the principles of extraterrestrial existence and understands the importance of human life based on moral rules.  Other people were naked in the painting, and one can easily note that they are sinners. This explains the reason they do not have the right to cover their bodies with clothes. This shows how tormented the souls in hell are and the manner in which they have no longer any control on anything that happens in their lives. 

Delacroix’s professional work with colors creates an effect of movement on the masterpiece. The Bark of Dante depicts two heroes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, who are Dante and Virgil. There is not much information about the sitters related to this painting, but it is evident from various analyzes that have been carried about it that the piece was created under the influence of Dante’s comedy. 

Delacroix wanted to depict romanticism as one aspect that is capable of influencing and running the world. He strongly believed in this philosophy and had been referred to as one of the greatest romantics in the painting field in the world. Delacroix worked on this painting because he believed that the world was chaotic and that there was confusion in the entire world in the sense that all figures begin and end in an intentional manner. In the damned souls, he saw feelings that were always trapped inside him and came up with the painting in conjunction with Dante’s comedy. 

How do the Subject and Form of the Work Relate to the Artistic and Historical Period in Which It Was Made?

The subject of the work mainly revolves around romanticism. The painting was completed around 1822, a period that saw many social issues coming to the open and being discussed freely. In this period, artists concentrated on making the best out of these social issues, and Delacroix was not left behind in depicting romanticism in this work. From the issue of romanticism, the painting related well with the emerging issues in that period. It seemed to explore the –psychological states of all the individuals that are depicted in it and it does this through the use of compact and dramatic contrasts in order to highlight the responses to their respective predicaments. The painting relates to this period in history whereby there were fear, anxiety and a physical state of imbalance. There came a revelation in this period that people who were ‘damned’ are usually in a total state of loss and helplessness as depicted in the painting, and through people who are in hell. The souls in hell seem to be in a catastrophic period of their lives whereby there is nothing that could be done to salvage them. 

In the case of the form of this work, the theatrical displays of the work as well as the bold colors of the figures used at the centre of the painting relates to the period when many artists were starting to experiment in various features of painting styles. For example, it is evident that the red of Dante’s cowl properly resonates with the mass behind him that is fired. It vividly contrasts with the blue color from the billowing Phlegyas. There is also white linen on Virgil’s mantle that can be referred to as a great wake up in the middle of the dark and a basic flash in the tempest. There is a contrast between colors in Dante’s head in the depiction of the damned people coming to a conclusion that this leaves the soul with an undefined impression. This implies that due to the developments that were taking place in the art of painting, there is closely related resonance between the form of the painting and the historical period in which it was created. This brings about an epic topic of discussion and coincidence between the period of history and the painting itself. 


The Bark of Dante represents uniqueness and importance of the painting for the world culture. While the originality of the piece was reached by the painter’s talent, knowledge, and successful combination of characteristics of different artistic periods, its importance was determined by the place it takes in the world of art. Moreover, it remains an instance of the best works of the Renaissance known by humanity.

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