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Deux esprits, appuyés l’un sur l’autre, s’entretiennent des deux poëtes en les voyant s’approcher près d’eux

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CAT 97. Etienne Achille Réveil after John Flaxman. Deux esprits, appuyés l’un sur l’autre, s’entretiennent des deux poëtes en les voyant s’approcher près d’eux. Plate 18 (from canto 14) in Purgatoire du Dante. Paris: Audot, 1833. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Still on the second cornice of Purgatory, Dante and Virgil hear the voices of two who had sinned with envy, Guido del Duca di Brettino (on the right) and Renieri da Calboli (on the left), each conveniently labeled in Réveil's engraving (as they were by Piroli, who, unlike Réveil, labeled Dante and Virgil too). In Piroli’s 1807 English engraving, Flaxman calls this plate A Conversation with Guido di Brettinoro, who, indeed, does most of the speaking for the spectres. Guido confesses his own generic sin of envy in these words: “Envy so parch’d my blood, that had I seen / A fellow man made joyous, thou had’st mark’d / A livid paleness overspread my cheek” (14.85-87). Guido looks pale in Flaxman’s drawing, but then so does Renieri; Flaxman also gives to each an empathy for the other—as well as Dante and Virgil—such as is expressed in Guido’s last lines: “Go thy ways; for now I take / Far more delight in weeping, than in words. / Such pity for your sakes hath rung my heart” (14.127-30). Although Guido’s fulminations against certain of those persons who live along the full length of the River Arno rival some of Dante’s own most bitter invective, his active charity toward Renieri as well as toward Dante and Virgil shows that he is being effectively purged of the sin that brought him here, as Flaxman acknowledges by putting him and Renieri amidst the clouds, though not yet so high as the entirely purified voices of charity that opened the previous canto.

One of the pleasures of Flaxman’s drawing here is the way in which the severe, cloaked, and nearly inert verticality of Dante and Virgil’s merged figures contrasts with the muscular, exposed, physically active horizontality of Renieri and Guido’s Michangeloesque gestures.  Virgil’s almost total recession into Dante’s form corresponds to his increasingly subordinate role in the journey, preparing for the moment in which Dante will have entirely internalized his mentor in canto 27.