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Sordello et Virgile se jettent dans les bras l’un de l’autre

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CAT 88. Etienne Achille Réveil after John Flaxman. Sordello et Virgile se jettent dans les bras l’un de l’autre. Plate 9 (from canto 6) in Purgatoire du Dante. Paris: Audot, 1833. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Flaxman’s depiction of The Meeting with Sordello from canto 6 shows Dante standing apart as Virgil and Sordello embrace. Sordello had himself been standing apart, “in high abstracted mood,” until Virgil had indicated he was from “Mantua,” at which word the shade “Rose toward us from the place in which it stood, / And cried, ‘Mantuan!  I am thy countryman, / Sordello.’ Each the other then embraced” (6.63, 72-5). That two men would express “glad cheer” simply for being “countrymen” (6.83) prompts Dante to complete the canto with a torrid invective against all the rulers and institutions that have allowed Italy to fill the state with warring hatred rather than civil harmony.

Flaxman draws Virgil and Sordello so as to show the mutuality of their embrace, yet retaining space between them, one an ancient pagan shade still assigned to limbo, the other a medieval Mantuan on the ascending slope of purgatory. Réveil's engraving of this plate is inattentive to Flaxman’s drawing of Dante’s second foot, which Piroli had more clearly distinguished from the fall of the robe in his engraving.