Botticelli ca. 1445 – 1510

The Abyss of Hell

pen and brush on vellum (32 × 47 cm) — c. 1485 Museum Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican City

Botticelli biography

Tags: Hell

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This is Botticelli's chart of Hell as described by Dante in his 14th century epic poem Inferno. Dante saw Hell as an abyss, a giant cave leading to the center of Earth. The cave was created when God cast Lucifer out of Heaven. Lucifer is stuck in the center, caught in ice.

In the story Dante describes his journey through Hell, which he made together with his friend the poet Virgil. Descending, they pass nine rings, representing categories of sins.

The first five rings are for people who could not control their desires: lust, gluttony, greed, anger and revenge. Also, unbaptized souls and decent heathens dwell here. Rings six and seven are for heresy and violence: murderers, suicides, blasphemers, and sodomites. Rings eight and nine are for fraud and treachery. Here dwell witches, thieves, astrologers, seducers, corrupt politicians, alchemists and sowers of discord. An interesting detail is that Dante describes meeting the founder of Islam, Muhammad, in that ring. Dante and many of his contemporaries viewed Islam as an off-shoot from Christianity.

More information can be found in this interactive map.

The Bible has no description of Hell other than the furnace of fire in Matthew. Dante's Hell is the product of his imagination combined with Greek and Roman myths.

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