The City of Dis, 1906
oil on canvas
Symbolist painters loved themes from literature in general, and from Dante’s oeuvre in particular. Dante’s work inspired many Croatian painters – Vlaho Bukovac, amongst others – but it exerted most influence over the work of Mirko Rački (1879-1982), who started to get preoccupied with Dante at the suggestion of painter Izidor Kršnjavi, who translated The Divine Comedy at that time. For the Croatian translation, Rački produced a series of illustrations and several large painting adaptations. Rački centred on The Divine Comedy almost his entire life and career. Interestingly, the drawings, gouaches and watercolours that he produced between 1904 and 1907 for Izidor Kršnjavi’s translation were all purchased in 1911 at an exhibition in Italy and can today be found at the Department of Prints and Drawings in Florence.
Dante’s City of Dis exerted a powerful influence on Western philosophical thought. Surrounded by iron walls guarded by fallen angels, it divides the sins of the first five circles of hell from the sin of heresy of the sixth circle, and the River Styx from the River Phlegethon. Rački drew a sketch of his The City of Dis in 1906 during his stay in Venice. In a typically symbolist manner, it depicts Dante and Virgil crossing a river in a boat as they make their way towards the deepest circle of hell. Painted in dark and indistinct tones of colour, the horizontal composition features the motif of a boatman on a river, with mist over the waters of the river infusing the painting’s aglow atmosphere.
Text: Ivana Rončević Elezović, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb