William Blake

The Pit of Disease: The Falsifiers


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
William Blake 1757–1827
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 372 × 527 mm
Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the National Gallery and donations from the Art Fund, Lord Duveen and others, and presented through the Art Fund 1919

Display caption

Dante and Virgil have arrived at the circle of Hell inhabited by ‘falsifiers’ such as forgers. They are tormented by numerous diseases.

Blake used a red lake, probably brazilwood, and a gritty vermilion red to show the flames of Hell. These pigments have very different working properties, and are not easy to use in thin washes in gum medium. He preferred to use vermilion whenever a blood red or a living flesh tone was required. Here he has used it for parts of the diseased bodies of the two falsifiers at the right, which are raw with scratching.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

N03362 The Pit of Disease: the Falsifiers 1824–7 [A00005-A00011; N03351-N03370; T01950-T01956; complete]

N 03362 / B 812 58
Pen and watercolour 372×527 (14 5/8×20 3/4)
Signed ‘WB’ and inscribed ‘HELL Canto 29 & 30’ in ink b.r. and, on reverse in pencil, ‘For this see P 62’ t.c. and ‘28’ t.r., both turned through a right-angle
Watermarked ‘WE’
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 RA 1893 (16); Paris and Vienna 1937 (23)
LITERATURE Rossetti 1863, p.220 no.101e2, and 1880, p.231 no.123e2; Roe 1953, pp.115–17 no.58, repr.; Klonsky 1980, p.150, colour pl.61; Butlin 1981, p.574 no.812 58; Gizzi 1983, p.139 repr.

This is an illustration to Inferno XXIX, 46–84, and XXX, 49–99, a scene in the tenth trench of the eighth circle, that devoted to the falsifiers who are punished with innumerable diseases. The two figures scratching themselves are Griffolino of Arezzo and Capocchio of Florence. The three figures on the left may be Adam of Brescia, described by Dante as being lute-shaped (see especially the engraving), with Potiphar's wife and Sinon the Greek, who persuaded the Trojans to admit the Trojan Horse.

This is one of the subjects engraved by Blake (repr. Roe 1953, pl.58 E, Bindman 1978, pl.652 and Klonsky 1980, pl.108); see also A00010.

The bridge of petrified figures is similar to those that appear in ‘The Devils under the Bridge’ and ‘Dante Striking against Bocca degli Abati’ (National Gallery of Victoria and City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham respectively; Butlin 1981, nos.812 34 and 65, repr. Roe 1953, pls.34 and 64, Klonsky 1980, pls.39 and 68 and Gizzi 1983, pp.117 and 146). They seem to represent Fallen Man at his furthest remove from Divine Energy and are a suitable setting for these scenes of physical suffering.

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

You might like

In the shop