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Compositions By John Flaxman, Sculptor, R.A. From The Divine Poem Of Dante Alighieri, Containing Hell, Purgatory And Paradise. With Quotations From The Italian, And Translations From The Version Of The Reverend H. Boyd, To Each Plate.

RA Collection: Book

Record number


Variant Title

Compositions From The Hell, Purgatory, And Paradise


London.: Published May 1. 1807,, by Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, Paternoster Row.

Physical Description

[1] f., 38, 38, [1], 33 pl.; 264×335 mm.


[T.p.] - [Pl.1 = T.pl.] - [Plates].

Responsibility Note

No plate is signed.


G.E. Bentley, The early engravings of Flaxman's classical designs (1964).

C. Gizzi, ed., Flaxman e Dante [exhibition catalogue] (1986).

For Flaxman's influence see the bibliographic note on Compositions From The Tragedies Of Aeschylus Designed By Iohn Flaxman (1795).

On illustrations to Dante see the bibliographic note on La Divina Commedia Di Dante Alighieri (1757).

Summary Note

The publication-date of 1807 is carried by the title-page; which is followed by the title-plate, on which the publication-date of 1807 has been engraved below the first publication-date of 1793. It reads, 'Compositions From The Hell, Purgatory, And Paradise, Of Dante Alighieri, By Iohn Flaxman, Sculptor. Engraved By Thomas Piroli, from the Drawings in Possession of Thomas Hope Esqr. 1793. London, Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, Paternoster Row, R.H. Evans, Pall Mall, W. Miller, Albemarle Street, & I. & A. Arch, Cornhill, May 1. 1807.' (The drawings had been commissioned from Flaxman by Thomas Hope in 1792, and Piroli's engravings of them had first been issued as a small private edition in 1793.)

The plates, captioned in Italian and English, show passages from Dante's Divina Commedia. Between those for 'Purgatory' and 'Paradise' is an unnumbered plate, captioned, 'Faith, Hope and Charity'.

No illustrated edition of Dante had been published between 1596 and 1757 (Zatta's edition, illustrated by pupils of Sebastiano Ricci); and Reynolds's Ugolino, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773, was one of few Dante subjects painted in the late eighteenth century. However, Flaxman draws in a generalised way on his knowledge of early Renaissance painting and Gothic sculpture - as was immediately noted by Schlegel and by Goethe ('a gift of adopting the innocence of the older Italian school'). The extreme simplicity of the style may be exemplified by the drawing of the Hypocrites (Inferno pl.25); which was one of those copied by Goya.

Flaxman's original Dante drawings are preserved at the Houghton Library, Harvard University.


7 October 1839: RA Council passes resolution to purchase the Lectures of Flaxman ed[ited] by Sir R. Westmacott and also his Outlines from ... Dante ...' (RA Council Minutes, IX, ).

Copy Note

Binding Note

19th-century marbled-papered boards, rebacked and recornered in calf in 20th century; red morocco spine-label lettered 'Flaxman's Compositions', spine lettered 'R.A.' and '1793'.

Name as Subject


Christian art and symbolism - Afterlife - Heaven - Hell - Purgatory
Italian poetry - 14th century
Drawings - 18th century
Pictorial works - Great Britain - 18th century - 19th century


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