Catalogue entry

N03356 The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides 1824–7 [A00005-A00011; N03351-N03370; T01950-T01956; complete]

N 03356 / B 812 24
Pen and watercolour 372×527 (14 5/8×20 3/4)
Inscribed ‘HELL Canto 13’ in ink b.r. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘N21 next at p.86’ t.c. and again in centre, turned through a right-angle, and ‘Hell Canto 13’ b.r.
Watermarked ‘WELGAR 1796’
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the National Art-Collections Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the National Art-Collections Fund 1919
PROVENANCE As for N03351
EXHIBITED Pescara 1983 (5, colour)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.217 no.101w, and 1880, p.229 no.123w; Roe 1953, pp.79–80 no.24, repr.; Klonsky 1977, p.115, repr.; Klonsky 1980, p.143, colour pl.25; Butlin 1981, pp.563–4 no.812 24; Gizzi 1983, p.103 repr., and repr. in colour p.57; Warner 1984, p.112

This is an illustration to Inferno XIII, 2–108, a scene in the second ring of the seventh circle of hell. Dante and Virgil are in a wood full of harpies, birds with human heads which feed upon the leaves of trees in which are encased people who have committed suicide. Dante has just torn a branch off the tree in which is embedded Pier delle Vigne, a minister of the Emperor Frederick II who committed suicide after losing favour. The upside-down female figure transformed into a tree on the left may have been suggested by Dante's reference to ‘La Meretrice’, Envy, to whom Pier delle Vigne attributes his disgrace; it also represents the vegetative existence seen at its lowest.

Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990