Ary Scheffer, Francesca da Rimini, 1835
65.55 x 92 in.
Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) was a Dutch painter associated with Romanticism. His father, mother, grandfather, and brother were all painters. When his father, Bernard Scheffer, died, Ary's mother, Cornelia Lamme Scheffer, moved Ary and his brother Hendrik from Amsterdam to Paris to further their education. While Ary had success in Paris, he did not follow the trend of the most popular painters, like Delacroix and Géricault. He therefore developed his own style that is a combination of French and Dutch styles and exhibits elements of both Classicism & Romanticism. Francesca da Rimini (the alternate or full title is Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Virgil) is considered one of Scheffer's greatest works. I have discussed Dante's Divine Comedy twice before, with Botticelli's Abyss of Hell and Bouguereau's Dante and Virgil, and Scheffer presents another scene from the Inferno. Scheffer also has another painting of a scene from Divine Comedy, showing Dante and Beatrice, but I find this work more interesting. Francesca da Rimini was a real person (1255-c1285) who was the daughter of the Lord of Ravenna. She was married to Giovanni Malatesta in a political marriage, but fell in love with his younger brother Paolo. The two carried on an affair for ten years, before Giovanni discovered them and killed them. In the years following her death, she became something of a notorious figure in Florence, about whom many stories sprung up. Dante and Virgil encounter Francesca and Paolo in the second circle of hell, inhabited by the lustful, where they are swept up in an eternal whirlwind, just as they were swept up in their passion. Upon hearing Francesca's account of her life, a story he already knows, Dante faints out of pity. Since her inclusion in Dante's poem, Francesca da Rimini became a very popular subject of painting, theater, and opera. Scheffer's version is a powerfully dramatic rendering of the lovers. He makes use of a dark background to make the couple's bodies even more striking. They appear in simultaneous pain and passion, as they embrace but are also killed. The single sword wound that killed both Francesca and Paolo is visible on her back and his chest. The beautiful rendering of both bodies is the most compelling element of the painting, with the gentle touch of Paolo's hand, the desperate embrace of Francesca's arms around his neck, and Francesca's beautifully elongated back.