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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XIV: Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

Inferno XIV: The Old Man of Crete

Ink on paper, 2016

22 x 15”

A fantastic interlude occurs in the fourteenth canto of L’Inferno as Virgil revives imagery from Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream, an image of a giant statue made from various materials, from precious and strong on the top to crumbling clay at the bottom.

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After leaving the Forest of Suicides Dante and Virgil traverse the burning sands of the the seventh circle of hell. Their conversation is set aside for a time as Virgil relates the allegory of the Old Man of Crete, an image borrowed from the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, in which the great King Nebudchadnezzar is visited by a dream of a giant statue, metaphorically composed of various materials—strong to weak, precious to worthless. In Virgil’s description the statue is an enormous colossus, emerging from the side of Mount Ida in Crete.

The statue’s back faces Egypt, heretofore the world’s dominant society, and looks to Rome in deference to Christian rule. As a symbol of humanity’s crumbling moral and political fortitude it has a head of gold, arms and breast made of silver, bronze abdomen and thighs, and iron legs. His right foot, upon which he rests most of his weight, is made of crumbling, kiln baked clay, a symbol of the deteriorating institution of the medieval Catholic Church. He cries tears (through cracks in his body, not as I have depicted it in the illustration) which on the ground below create the four rivers of Inferno: Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon and Cocytus.

This is my favorite drawing so far, in part because of the sheer complexity of the image I needed to make. I relied a bit on ancient conceptions of Nebudchadnezzar is developing the costume and styling of hair and beard (see below), and really enjoyed interpreting the various active aspects of the image, finding concise and iconic ways to indicate is gaze, the tears, the geography, and materiality.

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