Happy In Hell

Love, that is not loved back, pardons the loving.
(Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona)


Recently I made a photomanip that was fun to do, apart from one thing that was not so much fun, namely hair. I have to get some decent brushes for the Gimp. But this left out for now, I quite like it.

Click to enlarge

What entertained me was not only the idea to re-draw PJ in PS3 game style. (I never played this specific game either.) The original artwork is great, concerning style, yet, the plot could be better. Dante is a half-demon with the task to save mankind, basically. His weapons of choice are two guns, Ebony and Ivory, and he has the ability to craft epic weapons out of thin air, more or less.

So what was on my mind — instead of game plots — was a painting I happen to be rather fond of: “Dante and Virgil in Hell” by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) — of whom I almost always forget a few vowels.

William Adolphe Bouguereau – Dante And Virgil In Hell

picture by amazon

The Man With The Many Consonants

Sidenote: Maybe he should have married the man with the many consonants and made an anagram, but then, centuries separate them (“300 ans les séparent” … What reminds me in turn of the “Carestini” trailer — my mind works in strange ways.)
But back to the painting: I like many things about it, and I don’t even want to go in depth here about Dante and Virgil, and what their characters and work imply for the meaning of the painting. Just to stay on the very surface for now, there would be, e.g.:

  • the skill of the painter, displayed in the flawless anatomy of the two men fighting, one obviously not wanting to have done to him what the other intends to do.
  • the blissful smile that could also be called “happily shagged out” of the man lying on the floor. So we have here: One who is a victim, one who is a perpetrator, and the other who seems content with what hell has in store for him. He’s happy in hell.
  • Then there is the devil, gleeing at Dante and Virgil. He is more a viewer than an active part, also he is quite small, what gives him almost the quality of a sidekick, or of an evil imp, not more. He is just the one who tosses the first stone, saying “He did!” and enjoys mayhem breaking loose — or even, sitting on someone’s shoulder, whispering suggestive things into their ear. He is looking at Dante and Virgil, not at the scenery they are absorbed by in turn.
  • Dante and Virgil, oblivious of the devil. There is this gesture of protectiveness: One seems to put his hand around the other in an attempt to turn him away from the scenery, but is unable to unhook his own eyes. One could say he empathizes with the victim, maybe. However, he doesn’t try to intervene. The other has about the same look on his face as Castiel being exposed to p*rn for the first time. (And we all know what happens, at any rate after this clip:)

There’s a difference though, as Castiel is not watching live rape, of course. One could say, of course, that it is only two men fighting, as it is supposedly the 5th circle of hell which is depicted. Yet, the picture renders another impression.

  • There’s yet another thing: The highlighting of the scenery in the foreground, for me, creates a mirror effect. Anyone who looks at the picture is a looker-on just as Virgil and Dante are. How do we behave? Repelled, fascinated or turned-on?

Bouguereau lived from 1825 to 1905. He had an eye for perfection as well as for flaws; he sees particularities and still seems to pardon them. There is more than just beauty in his works, there is forgiveness — he is a good but kind observer, and a master of stagings. He is only highlighting flaws to get a meaning across, like in his Pietà. I wonder in which person in his “Dante and Vergil in Hell” he saw most of himself. Maybe it is the devil, after all, enjoying the effect the deliberate display of violence and sex has on the observer — not only on Dante and Virgil, but also on the people who look at his pictures. Dante and Virgil could as well be visitors at a museum, one turning away the other from the picture that is disturbing on so many levels — mostly for the one who tries to turn the other, of course.

Dante being protective

Let me highlight what I mean: For a person to protect another, they have to know what’s happening. In the Amazon rain forest you would want to have a guide who is experienced, and familiar with the local wildlife, e.g. — now that is quite obvious. People usually like to boast their experience on fields like weapon expertise, survival, common sense and education. However, to boast about sexual experience, especially if it is not about the vanilla variety of human interactions, is not equally found praiseworthy. There is a lovely story by de Sade: A girl and her governess (or was it two governesses?) go for a stroll in a park. It is spring, and the chestnuts are in bloom. The girl states they smell funny and that their smell reminds her of something. Huge awkwarkness of the governess ensues, as obviously she cannot tell her what the smell reminds her of, and in turn she is deeply concerned that the girl would make this reference. Most crucial of all though — she must not give away that she knows what the smell of course reminds her of.

This gesture of protectiveness reminds me of this story. He is not as absorbed by the scenery as Dante is; he has seen similar before. He has studied and explored the abysses of human behaviour, to which extent is unclear. However, the devil knows; he is grinning wildy. However, Virgil was a paragon of virtue, that’s why he is spared the tortures of hell in the first place. So maybe the devlish imp is rather grinning about his succeeding attempt to fascinate Dante.

William Adolphe Bouguereau – At The Edge Of The Brook

Bouguereau likes what makes people special, and outstanding. His paintings often look like Kitsch at first glance, but they all have something intriguing about them.

Just to pick another example, more or less at random, “At the edge of the brook”.The girl seems slightly tired out and has something serene about her look and pose that would rather fit an older woman. The flowers are poppy, of course. In ancient Greek they were flowers contributed to Persephone, and still they are a symbol for evanescence. They already start to go limp, so they perfectly fit the look on her face.

What else might be implied in the symbolisms I will leave out for now; it’s a whole field of study. (Colour of the dress, the brook itself, the fact that she is bare-footed, the slightly deranged shirt, etc..)

A German song called “Roter Mohn,” (Red Poppy) which deals with the topic of … poppy, it’s short-livedness, and love, of course.

So this is about what goes through my head while I waste time drawing hair with the wrong set of brushes. A nice passtime in total. I was pondering, knowing a little about Devil May Cry as well as thinking about the Bougereau painting where I would rather put PJ. Concerning Devil May Cry, surely not as Virgil. I’m not so sure about the other.


2 thoughts on “Happy In Hell

  1. Regardless of the title or the characters (Virgil and Dante) on the left of the painting, the focus is undeniably the two nude men. Viewed in subdued light, the background fades away. If this is strife and turmoil in Hell, why did the artist chose such provocative stances? At my first exposure to this work, I thought the men were deep kissing. Endlessly fascinating. And,stimulating…

  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes, terribly sexy in a way. I think Bouguereau wanted this contradiction, and this is definitely more than men fighting. The blessed smile of the man on the ground tells differently. Also he didn’t paint chopped-off limbs there or something as other painters chose to highlight the violence in the same scene. It is more like they are watching (and we are watching) a scene where we are at first glance unable to tell if this is something really non-consensual. The protective gesture as well hints that there is at least a sexual component. You might want to protect a child from seeing violence, but not an adult man.

    Another theory is that one wants to help — he casts a compassionate glance — and that the other tells him by the gesture to let it be, but this is in contradiction to the definite perfection of the bodies that are fighting. The painter could have chosen to make them ugly just as well, instead they look like Greek heroes. The pose also has something very classic to it. It reminds of the genre “pottery porn.”

    But there is more, of course the punishment those people face is that no matter if they chop off limbs, or if they die, they have to go on until all eternity. There is always another round, they never get enough (If I remember correctly.)

    So, no consequences, no limitations to what one can do to another, …
    “And I should look away?”
    “Pleeeease…” *It might give you ideas.

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