Scheffer presents the adulterous lovers of Dante’s Inferno, Canto 5 (Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta) observed by Dante and Virgil and suffering the punishment of eternal winds. The centrifugal focus of the composition evokes a swirling force: the central figures, marked by the wounds of their murder, emerge from the surrounding darkness as if viewed through a lens in which the tear on the woman’s cheek forms the sharpest point.
Upon seeing the version of this painting exhibited in London in 1854, George Eliot remarked, "It surpasses one’s expectations from the engraving. I could look at it for hours." Repeated by the artist in at least ten versions, and reproduced on Worcester porcelain after 1867, the scene became one of the artist’s most celebrated works, and later informed Rodin’s depiction of the subject.
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