Ecco la fiera con la coda aguzza

6 12 2011

I was working on some content for the Manchester Digital Dante project website this morning, and came across this wonderful illustration (in the 1481 Florence edition) of the demon Geryon. Geryon is the ‘beast with the pointed tail’ who flies Dante and Virgil down into the Inferno, between the seventh and eighth circles (Inf. 17):

And that foul effigy of fraud came forward,
beached its head and chest
but did not draw its tail up on the bank.
It had the features of a righteous man,
benevolent in countenance,
but all the rest of it was serpent.
It had forepaws, hairy to the armpits,
and back and chest and both its flanks
were painted and inscribed with rings and curlicues.

(tr. by Robert Hollander)

Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester

In the image you can also see the hand-painted initial capitals which are a feature of the Rylands copy of this edition.

Although Geryon is supposed to be a fearsome beast, in this rendering he reminds me of those oddly domesticated and cuddly early-Cinquecento monsters, like the demon in Raphael’s St Michael (1503-05) in the Louvre.

© Musée du Louvre/ Martine Beck-Coppola

The Louvre notes at the link above tell us there are actually Dantean scenes in the background of this painting, so Raphael obviously knew from contemporary illustrations of the Commedia

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