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Les âmes avares expient dans las poussière et les larmes leurs fautes passées

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CAT 102. Etienne Achille Réveil after John Flaxman. Les âmes avares expient dans las poussière et les larmes leurs fautes passées. Plate 23 (from canto 19) in Purgatoire du Dante. Paris: Audot, 1833. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

After the dream of the siren which opens canto 19, Dante and Virgil reach the fifth ledge of Purgatory, where Dante sees those who sinned from avarice “on the ground / All downward lying prone and weeping sore.” So deeply did these sigh, “My soul had cleaved to the dust,” that “they well nigh choked the words” (19.69-73, 83-87). Eager to learn from these, too, Dante “took my stand / Over that shade” who had answered when he and Virgil had asked the way. His colloquy with Adrian V, who had been Pope of Rome for 39 days, concludes the canto.

Flaxman shows Dante as he “took [his] stand” among the avaricious. Flaxman draws the prone ones with exemplary economy of means, especially in the contrasting shape and feel of the two sinners on the left. Dante seems to be addressing the soul stretched out full to the right, but he seems to be answered by the head slightly elevated behind Virgil; either could conceivably be the Pope Adrian V who speaks of his own avaricious life on earth. This is one of many designs from “Flaxman’s Dante” (1792, 1807) that influenced Goya’s etchings in The Disasters of War (begun around 1810 but unpublished until 1863, long after the artist’s death), whose plate 62, The deathbeds (Las camas de muerte), features one cloaked figure standing among a multitude of prostrate ones (and whose subsequent plates have much to do with the sins of Popes).