Dante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo in the Underworld
(Ary Scheffer)


Related work: Francesca da Rimini en Paolo, sketch, oil on canvas, 8 7/8 x 12 inches (22.5 x 30.5 cm.), 1822-24, Dordrechts Museum; Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 65 1/2 inches x 92 1/8 inches (166.5 x 234 cm.), 1835, The Wallace Collection, London; Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 9 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches (24.2 x 32.3 cm.), 1851, Cleveland, Museum of Art; Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 x 64 1/8 inches (114 x 163 cm.), 1854, Amherst, Mead Art Museum; Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 22 7/8 x 31 3/4 inches (58.2 x 80.5 cm.), 1854, Hamburg, Kunsthalle; Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, oil on canvas, 1855, 67 3/8 x 94 1/8 inches (171 x 239 cm.), Paris, Louvre; Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 22 7/8 x 31 5/8 inches (58.2 x 80.5 cm.), Clermont-Ferrand, Musée Bargoin; Antonio Sasso after Ary Scheffer, Francesca of Rimini and Paolo, oil on canvas, 67 x 98 1/2 inches (170 x 250 cm.), St. Petersburg, Hermitage; Stanislas Stattler after Ary Scheffer, Francesca of Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, color lithograph, 47 5/8 x 67 1/4 inches (121 x 171 cm.), Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum; Francesca da Rimini and Paolo, pastel on paper, 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches (14.1 x 16.3 cm.), Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum,; Francesca da Rimini and Paolo, pencil on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 inches (27.1 x 20.5 cm.) Paris, Institute Néerlandais, Fondation Custodia; L. Calamatta after Ary Scheffer, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo, engraving, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum. This painting represents the tragic lovers from Dante’s Inferno (canto V). It is the moment when Francesca da Rimini who has been reading a romance is interrupted by a kiss from her lover, while her jealous husband looks on. In the next moment he kills them both. Rubio’s painting owes a great compositional debt to Ingres’ many versions of the theme as well as to Coupin de la Couperie’s 1812 painting (purchased by Josephine Bonaparte) and to nineteenth-century engraved illustrations.

As in the Ingres, drama is created by the counterpoint between the tenderly embracing couple against a drapery backdrop and the enraged husband entering in the rear, about to draw his sword. Dante’s damned lovers Paolo et Francesca, a subject with which Scheffer employed himself on and off for over thirty-three years, remains this artist’s most famous image and an icon of nineteenth-century art. Described by Scheffer’s contemporary biographer Mrs. Grote as “the greatest of the products of Scheffer’s poetic pencil which burst upon the world of art,” [1] this painting was once recognized as one of the masterpieces of the century. [2]

Mention of a painting titled Les ombres de Françoise de Rimini et son amant apparaissant au Dante et Virgile first appears listed under Scheffer’s name in the Salon livrets as early as 1822 and 1824, but apparently the work was not exhibited either year. [3] The painting appeared at last in the Salon of 1835, described in the livret as belonging to the Duc d’Orléans (now in the Wallace Collection). [4] Receiving high acclaim for the painting, Scheffer was awarded the Legion d’Honneur following the close of the Salon. The enormous popularity of this work encouraged the artist to paint a number of replicas [5] in various sizes, at times with subtle changes. Those replicas which are dated generally come from the 1850s. Though Scheffer continued throughout his career to have a remarkable facility for a wide range of styles (viewed by his critics as stylistic hesitancy), his works on a monumental scale during the 1840s tended to be in his cool, refined Ingresque manner. His later production of major replicas of his triumphant Francesca suggests a reinvestigation of his earlier, more “Rembrandtesque” style. In addition, Scheffer’s financial situation following the 1848 Revolution was far from secure and the replication of the famous Francesca may have been a happy means of increasing his income.

The Francesca’s fame and popularity were spread through numerous engravings, [6] reaching a broad international audience, despite Scheffer’s withdrawal from public exhibition after the Salon of 1846. Though more “progressive” camps [7] complained from the mid-1840s on that Scheffer’s work was too sentimental, he continued to have a strong following of admirers and collectors even after his death. In 1860 Zola could still write to Cézanne:

“Je ne sais si tu connais Ary Scheffer, ce peintre de génie mort l’année dernière…Scheffer était un amant passioné de l’idéal, tous ces types sont purs, aeriens, presques diaphanes. Il était poète dans touts l’acception du mot, ne peignant presque pas le réel, abordant les sujets les plus sublimes, les plus délirants. Veux-tu riens de plus poetique que, d’une poésie étrange et navrante, que sa Françoise de Rimini?” [8]

This success was on an international scale with admirers in England and throughout Europe. George Eliot, upon seeing the Francesca at Gambart’s French Gallery in London in 1854, wrote:

“It surpasses one’s expectations from the engraving. I could look at it for hours. There is nothing at the Royal Academy to affect one in the same way — or indeed at all.” [9]

The impact of the tormented couple continued after the artist’s death, having a wide range of influence. In 1867, nine years after Scheffer’s death, the image of the damned lovers appeared on Worcester porcelain. Even later in the century Rodin’s own treatment of Dante’s Inferno and the Paolo and Francesca tale was affected by Scheffer’s composition, from the entwined, tortured pose of the lovers to the molten, barely decipherable suggestion of Hell behind. [10]

The subject of this episode from the Inferno was evidently suggested to Scheffer by Hyacinthe Didot. [11] Rather than the historical moment in which their fate is sealed in an adulterous kiss — a romantic scene with opportunities for drama and picturesque medieval costume and interior which painters such as Coupin de la Couperie, Ingres, and others depicted– Scheffer represents Dante (in red) and Virgil (wearing a blue cloak and a laurel wreath) encountering the shades or spirits of the murdered Paolo and Francesca in the second circle of Hell as described by Dante: “Now the doleful notes begin to reach me; now I am come where much wailing smites me. I came into a place mute of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest when it is assailed by warring winds. The hellish hurricane, never resting, sweeps along the spirits with its rapine; whirling and smiting, it torments them … so I saw shades come, uttering wails borne by that strife; wherefore I said, “Master, who are these people that are so lashed by the black air?” [12]

After the shade of Francesca recounts her story, [13] Dante ends the canto:

“While the one spirit said this, the other wept, so that for pity I swooned, as if in death, and fell as a dead body falls.” [14]

Scheffer has suspended the lovers’ semi-nude figures against a turbid, swirling background of other barely perceived tormented souls. Entwined together in semi-transparent drapery, their souls blown about for all eternity, they bear the wounds by which they died. Paolo leans back, his left arm half-covering his anguished face while Francesca, her eyes closed, clings to him, her arms wrapped around his shoulder. The composition, the sweep of the two figures across the canvas, was derived from Flaxman’s plates of Compositions from the Tragedies of Aeschylus, particularly the Vision of Helen, [15] a debt Scheffer willingly acknowledged. [16]

As the largest known version of the Paolo and Francesca — the Wallace collection (166.5 x 234 cm) and Louvre version (171 x 230 cm) are the closest in size — this painting, in superb unlined condition, was commissioned by Scheffer’s close friend the Polish patriot and romantic poet Count Sigismund Krasinski (1812 – 1859). [17] Known at the time as the “Anonymous Poet of Poland,” Krasinski wrote such poems as Iridion and The Undivine Comedy. Prior to meeting the artist for the first time in the Hague in August of 1845, the poet had already seen the famous engraving by Calamatta of Scheffer’s Francesca. In a letter dated August 31, 1844, Krasinski described viewing the engraving at a print dealer’s, rhapsodizing about the image — “C’est l’oeuvre parfaite d’un maître. En l’apercevant, j’ai senti the perfect Beauty…” — and even writing a poem in its honor. [18] Krasinski visited Scheffer’s studio in Paris in September 1845 and Wellisz suggests that Krasinski then saw the “original” for the first time. [19]

The details and exact date of the commission remain unclear. Krasinski closed a letter to Scheffer from Heidelberg dated 5th December 1850: “Dites de ma part à la Francesca que je l’aime” [20] which may indicate that Scheffer had begun work on the huge canvas. The painting did arrive in Baden, Germany around the 14th of August 1851, on which date Krasinski joyfully wrote Scheffer “La Francesca est arrivé.” [21] In the same lengthy letter he calls the work “un tour de force innouï” and writes “toutes l’ensemble n’exprimeraient pas encore l’impression sous laquelle je courbe le front dès que je me mets à contempler cette composition unique, la plus simple et la plus grande du siècle!” [22] Krasinski was not alone in his effusive admiration for this Francesca. His sister-in-law, the princess Odescalchi wrote to Scheffer:

“I can’t tell you the effect that the Francesca had on Sigismund and me. We pass hours contemplating it together, and you can’t imagine how many ideas you create in him at each moment with this magnificent image of eternal death conquered by eternal love.” [23]

The artist made a gift of the painting to his friend, refusing to take payment, despite the fact that the failure of the revolution of 1848 had destroyed him financially. [24]

Krasinski’s enthusiasm for the painting lies in part in his own deep involvement with and enthusiasm for Dante. [25] Writing his Undivine Comedy, he took inspiration from Dante not just in the title but in the tripartite structure and the concept of the poet being guided through Hell and Purgatory. In a letter to Konstanty Gaszynski, Krasinski writes candidly of his “constant intimacy” with Dante: “That rascal Dante…has posted himself in my soul and I have carried him around with me this way for several years.” [26] Scheffer’s Paolo and Francesca and the poet’s admiration for it played an important role in Polish Romantic literature and aesthetics, as Krasinski is said to have developed his concept of Beauty while standing before the painting.

This important canvas, in addition to being a monumental example of the period’s fascination with Dante, is a testament to the international fame of Ary Scheffer and this composition. NOTES
[1] Quoted by Wellisz, op. cit, p.96.

[2] “…et Paolo et Francesca volant enlacés dans l’Enfer de Dante, passa longtemps pour un des chef’d’oeuvres du siècle.” Leo Ewals, “Ary Scheffer, le peintre poète,” L’Oeil, 304 (Nov. 1980), p.40.

[3] Leo Ewals, Ary Scheffer: Sa Vie et Son Oeuvre, Nimegue, 1987, pp. 60-61.

[4] John Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, II: French Nineteenth Century, London, 1986, #P316, pp. 238-242.

[5] There are study drawings dating from the early 1820s in Dordrecht and Paris (Fondation Custodia) and oil sketches in the Musée Bargouin, Clermont-Ferrand (24.7 x 32.5 cm.) and the Musée Ary Scheffer in Dordrecht (22.5 x 30.5 cm.).

Extant replicas (page numbers refer cataloging in Ewals, 1987):

Amherst, Massachusetts, Mead Art Museum, no. 1965-110 (114 x 163 cm., signed and dated 1854), [p.271]; Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art (24.2 x 32.2 cm., dated 1851), [p.271]; Hamburg, Kunsthalle (58.2 x 80.5 cm., dated 1854), [p.272]; London, Wallace Collection (166.5 x 234 cm., signed and dated 1835), [p.271]; Paris, Louvre (171 x 230 cm., dated 1855), [p.272]; New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen (B) (23 x 30 1/2 cm., inscribed à Pauline Viardot), [p.273]; New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen (C) (172.238.8 cm., signed and dated 1851), [p.271].

[6]”Scheffer est, avec Paul Delaroche, le peintre qui a été le plus capitalement gravé.” (Henri Béraldi, Les Graveurs du XIXè siècle. Guide de l’auteur d’estampes modernes, 1891, V, p.14, quoted by Leo Ewals, 1987, p.10.)

[7]See especially the essay by Baudelaire on the occasion of the Salon of 1846 known as the “Apes of Sentiment.” Baudelaire, Salon de 1846, texte établi et présenté par David Kelly, Oxford, 1975.

[8]Leo Ewals, 1980, p. 42.

[9]To Sara Sophia Hennell, 17 May 1854 (The George Eliot Letters, ed. Haight, London, 1954, II, p.155).

[10]For a discussion of Rodin and Scheffer, see C. Beutler, “Les Bourgeois de Calais de Rodin et d’Ary Scheffer,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 79 (1972), pp. 39-50.

[11]See Nouvelle Biographie Universelle, XLIII (1864), p. 497, n.1; quoted by Marthe Kolb, Ary Scheffer et son temps, Paris, 1937, p. 356 and Ewals, 1980, pp. 19, 29 n.1.

[12]Inferno. Canto V, lines 25 – 51
Or incomincian le dolenti note,
a farmisi sentire; or son venuto
là dove molto pianto mi percuote.
Io venni in loco d’ogne luce muto,
che mugghia come fa mar per tempesta,
se da contrari venti è combattuto.
La bufera infernal, che mai non resta
mena li spiriti con la sua rapina;
voltando e percotendo li molesta.
così vid’io venir, traendo guai ……..
ombre portate da la detta briga;
per ch’i’ dissi: “Maestro, chi son quelle genti che l’aura nera sì gastiga?”(lines 25 -51)

[13]Inferno. Canto V, lines 115-138.
Poi mi rivolsi a loro e parla’ io,
e cominciai: Francesca, I tuoi martìri
a lagrimar mi fanno tristo e pio.
Ma dimmi: al tempo d’i doci sospiri,
a che e come concedette amore
che conosceste I dubbiosi disiri?”
E quella a me: “Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa `l tuo dottore.
Ma s’a conoscer la prima radice
del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto,
dirò come colui che piange e dice.
Noi leggiavama un giorno per diletto
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
soli eravama e sanza alcun sospetto.
Per più fiate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
ma colo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.
Quando leggemmo is disiato riso

esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me no fia diviso,
la bocca mi basciò tuttp tremante.
Galeotto fu `l libro e chi los scrisse:
quel giorno più no vi leggemmo avante.”
Then I turned again to them, and I began, “Francesca, your torments make me weep for grief and pity; but tell me, the time of the sweet sighs, by what and how did Love grant you to know the dubious desires?” And she to me, “There is no greater sorrow than to recall, in wretchedness, the happy time; and this your teacher knows. But if you have such great desire to know the first root if our love, I will tell as one who weeps and tells. One day, for pastime, we read of Lancelot, how love constrained him; we were alone, suspecting nothing. Several times that reading urged out eyes to meet and took the color from our faces, but one moment alone it was that overcame us. When we read how the longed-for smile was kissed by so great a lover, this one, who shall never be parted from me, kissed my mouth all trembling. A Gallehault was the book and he who wrote it; that day we read no farther in it.”

[14]lines 139 – 142:`Mentre che l’uno spirito questo disse,

l’altro piangea; sì che di pietade
io venni men così com’ io morisse.
E caddi come corpo morto cade

[15]John Ingamells, op. cit., p. 238.

[16]Mrs. Grote, Memoir of the Life of Ary Scheffer, London, 1860, p. 156, in which Scheffer is reported to have said: “…if I have unconsciously borrowed from any one in the design of Francesca, it must have been from something I had seen among Flaxman’s drawings.”

[17]See Leo Wellisz, Grands Poètes romantiques de la Pologne, Paris, 1906, I.

[18]Letter quoted in Wellisz, 1933, p. 34-35.

[19]Ibid., p. 36. It is unclear which work Wellisz means by “l’original”. He may refer to the painting now in the Wallace collection but at the time belonging to the Duc d’Orléans which spent some time in Scheffer’s studio, or he may simply be indicating a work in oil by the artist as opposed to the print.

[20]Wellisz, 1933, p. 83.

[21]Ibid., p. 96.

[22]Ibid., p. 97

[23]’Je ne puis vous dire aussi l’effet que produit sur moi et sur Sigismond la Francesca. Nous passons des heures à la contempler ensemble, et vous ne sauriez vous imaginer combien d’idées vous créez à chaque moment dans lui par cette magnifique image de la mort éternelle vaincue par l’amour infini.’ Ibid., p. 99.

[24]Ibid., p. 99. His friends found other methods of assisting him financially, from extending him dignified loans to arranging for portrait commissions and other purchases.

[25]Zygmunt Krasinski, romantic universalist: an international tribute, ed.Wactaw Lednick, New York, 1964. See especially Wactaw Lednick, “The Undivine Comedy,” pp. 55-84.

[26]Ibid., p. 132.

[27]Leopold Wellisz, Les Amis Romantiques. Ary Scheffer et ses amis polonais, Paris, 1933, p. 132.

68 x 94 inches (172.7 x 238.8 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Provenance: Commissioned by Count Sigismund Krasinski, Baden; Warsaw, Maria Krasinska, his daughter, wife of Count Raczynski; Warsaw, then London, her son Count Edmund Raczynski, Warsaw, Polish Ambassador to London then last President of the Polish Government in exile, 1933, [27] to 1990.


Literature: catalogus Museum Ary Scheffer, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, 1934, p. 4; Ary Scheffer, tekeningen, aquarellen en oleiverfschetsen, Dordrechts Museum, 1980, p. 54; Paris, Institut Néerlandais, Ary Scheffer 1795-1858. Dessins, acquarelles, esquisses à l’huile, 1980, p. 24; . Ingamells, Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, Vol. II, 1986, pp. 238-242.; Leo Ewals, Ary Scheffer: Sa Vie et Son Oeuvre, Nimeguen, 1987, p. 271; Leo Ewals, Ary Scheffer, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, 1996, pp. 182-83.


Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘Romance & Chivalry’,

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Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
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1996-Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting.
Hardback book. 300 pages, fully illustrated with 90 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations. Introduction (40 pages) by Guy Stair Sainty, twelve essays, catalogue, appendix of salons 1801-24 and bibliography. £50 or $80 inc. p.& p.

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