N03365 Virgil Girding Dante's Brow with a Rush 1824–7
N 03365 / B 812 70
Pencil and watercolour 527×371 (20 3/4×14 5/8)
Inscribed ‘P-g Canto I’ in ink b.l. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘61’ t.l. and ‘Pg Canto 2’ b.r., the last turned through a right-angle
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 Tate Gallery (41 xv), Manchester (48 xv), Nottingham (42 i) and Ediburgh (51) 1913–14
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.221 no.102a, and 1880, p.232 no.124a; Roe 1953, pp.137–8 no.70, repr.; Klonsky 1980, p.154, colour pl.73; Butlin 1981, p.578 no.812 70; Gizzi 1983, p.151 repr.
This is an illustration to Purgatorio 1, 130–6. It was formerly catalogued as ‘Dante and Virgil again Beholding the Sun as they Issue from Hell’ but in fact the events shown in this watercolour occur after the poets' meeting with Cato, the subject of ‘Dante, Virgil and Cato’, now in the Fogg Art Museum (Butlin 1981, no.812 71, repr. Roe 1953, pl.71, Klonsky 1981, pl.74 and Gizzi 1983, p.152). In the Tate watercolour Cato has told Virgil to bathe Dante's face and to gird his brow with one of the rushes growing by the shore, during which time the sun will have risen enough to show them their route up the Mountain of Purgatory.
For Blake the rising sun may well have symbolised the Poetic Imagination, plyaing its part as the link between Fallen Man, in Hell, and Paradise, or as Blake would term it, Eden.
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990