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Casella récite au Dante une de ses canzoni

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CAT 84. Etienne Achille Réveil after John Flaxman. Casella récite au Dante une de ses canzoni. Plate 5 (from Canto 2) in Purgatoire du Dante. Paris: Audot, 1833. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Flaxman’s depiction of Casella’s Song places Casella in the center of a circle of souls, with Virgil and Cato deep in the distance on the right, Cato there revealing the shape of his beard. Casella’s muscular, unclad body and his open gesture contrast with the self-consciousness of those who avert their eyes or cover their private parts. Casella’s hand, reaching toward the attentive head and body of his friend Dante, calls attention to the face and hair of the young woman who stands, hands crossed, intent upon the singer’s every word. Her exquisite face is one of those which shows the influence of pre-Raphaelite Italian art on Flaxman’s pictorial depiction of Dante’s literary creation. Her face may also relate to the one line Dante gives us from Casella’s song: “Love, that discourses in my thoughts” (a line from one of Dante’s own canzone that relates to the role of Beatrice in leading Dante to love of the highest kind in the Divine Comedy as a whole). Flaxman catches the extended “sweetness” within which all stood “Fast fix’d in mute attention to his notes”—until Cato suddenly chides their “tardy spirits” for “loitering here” when the “sight of God” awaits them. After they “hasten” to “depart,” so do Virgil and Dante leave this place (2.107-26).