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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XXIII: Cloaks of Gold and Lead

Inferno XXIII: The Hypocrite Friars

Ink on paper, 2023

22 x 15”

Inferno XXIII: The Hypocrite Friars

Ink on paper, 2019

22 x 15”

After squeaking by the infuriated demons of the last scene, whose raging is carried forth in Canto XXIII, Dante and Virgil encounter a solemn group of friars, whose cloaks of glittering gold are lined with dense lead. These are hypocrites, destined to bear their embattled duplicity as garments.

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It may not reflect a huge time investment, but the top drawing (a revision) took quite a while to finish, in large part due to the stippling technique I employed. I finished the original drawing (second in sequence, above) while teaching in Ireland a few summers ago. A nice Irish fellow I met there singled it out as inferior to the others, and this critical feedback stuck. I like much more the revised drawing, which achieves what I wanted—a notable contrast, since that's what the scene is about (oppositeness, contrariness, etc.). So, thanks Colin O'Brien, for that feedback.

Perhaps one of the most brilliant moments of contrapasso in L'Inferno happens here, when Dante and Virgil engage in dialogue with a group of treacherous friars who embody one of Dante's greatest peeves: hypocrisy. Two of the more politically empowered of these friars, Godenti Catalano and Loderingo, favored the Guelphs in Florence, and this resulted in the destruction of Ghibelline (specifically, Uberti) homes in the Gardingo neighborhood of Florence. Dante's genius for "just-dessertism" is in full flower in Canto XXIII, as he cloaks these unfortunate, once "jovial" friars in glimmering gold, presenting an outward appearance of brilliance and opulence, while internally miring them in lead linings. He takes delight in punishing his transgressive cast of characters with such exquisite contrapassi. Never has "the punishment fits the crime" been more aptly applied.

The original drawing was a bit too stark, and oddly out of character. I re-drew it with a stippling trechnique to add some subtlety to its range of grays.

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