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Editorial (Horace White)
November 25, 1897
Imperialism’s First Fruits
April 6, 2015
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Botticelli’s Illustrations to the Divina Commedia
Excerpted from the November 12, 1896 Issue
Dante does not lend himself to illustration; and, even if he did, Botticelli was not the man for the task. Then, pray, what is the value of these drawings? The answer is simple. Their value consists in their being drawings by Botticelli, not at all in their being drawings for Dante. And at this point the honest showman should warn the public that a drawing by Botticelli is something very peculiar. It does not so much as attempt to be correct; it is not a faithful reproduction of anything whatsoever. A hundred “artist-journalists” now at work publish daily drawings which are far more exact, more lifelike, more clever, and more brilliant than any you will find in Botticelli’s designs for the Commedia. His real place as a draughtsman is not among great Europeans, but with the great Chinese and Japanese, with Ririomin, Haronobu, and Hokusai. Like these, he is a supreme master of the single line. He gives it a swiftness and a purity which in the whole world of sensation find their analogy only in some few ecstatic notes of the violin, or in the most crystalline timbre of the soprano voice. His universe was of the simplest. It consisted of things that could and of things that could not furnish themes for rhapsodies in swift, pure lines. Dante happened to find himself among the blessed in this simple division, hence Botticelli chose him as a subject for his art. These illustrations required of our artist no coloring—with him always an afterthought—and scarcely any stereotyped composition. Here he could be free as nowhere else, and here, therefore, we see him in his most unadulterated form. The value of these drawings consists in their being the most spontaneous product of the greatest master of the single line that our modern Western world has yet possessed.