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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XXXIV: Finale



Inferno XXXIV

Ink on paper, 2023

22 x 15”


On the floor of Hell, dead center inside the earth’s sphere, Dante and Virgil encounter Lucifer, pathetically gnawing on the three greatest traitors in history: Judas, Brutus and Cassius. His enormous wings freeze the depths of Inferno, and he is helplessly embedded in ice, weeping and slobbering bloody drool in eternal damnation. The imagery of this canto vividly evokes the “anti-Christ”—dark, miserable, lacking spiritual consciousness and completely disempowered.


Well, this is it, in a way. I worked on this drawing while in residence at the American Academy in Rome, an eight-week affiliate fellowship that offered me an extraordinary workspace, great food, and a perfectly comfortable room for lodging (except for the shower, whose temperature was wildly unpredictable—spontaneously pivoting from ice cold to scalding hot without warning).


I have to confess that I went a little bonkers at the Academy. I lived in Rome for two years (2007-09) and have been back several times since, so I was more interested in studying precedents in churches and museums than I was in touring the city and sampling coffee and gelato. Indeed, I found some wonderful new directions when I sat drawing the Cosmatesque floors of the Basilica of San Clemente, the complex, medieval form of which I may use in some way as I consider gathering up the whole collection of drawings.




I worked on some revisions, which I've threaded through the blog entries, and am largely pleased with how things turned out. One drawing took me two weeks, at least, and had me holed up in the studio from dawn til bedtime, every day without rest (hence the bonkers part). Ultimately, I embarked on the final drawing—that of Lucifer in the moments before the end of L'Inferno, abstracted in a way that (hopefully) refers to the remarkable geometry of Hell that Dante envisioned, and to the numerological aspects of all design decisions. Dante made generous use of the number three (think of Cerberus, the Holy Trinity, Lucifer's three faces chowing down on history's three great traitors, etc.) and multiples thereof (nine circles of Hell, etc.). My measurements and apportionment of space attempt to align with the numerical schemes of the poet.


The geography of Hell as Dante has described it is, to me at least, impossible. If we use Dante's descriptions as a guide, Lucifer is, by various estimations, 40 - 300 times the size of Dante. His pelvis is dead center at Earth's core, and his feet extend far enough to reach the opposite side of the world, where Dante and Virgil emerge to begin their climb up the Mountain of Purgatory. If the measurement from pelvis (Earth's center) to feet (Earth's crust) is equal to Earth's radius, then Lucifer's upper body should extend about the same distance in the opposite direction. All of this has lead me to abstract the notion of Lucifer's position as he is embedded inside the globe. Because the geometric logic of the descriptions is not possible, I ultimately reduced the image to a sort of design.

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