“Visibile Parlare”: Rauschenberg’s drawings for Dante’s Inferno

Graham Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The principal goal of this article is to determine how closely Robert Rauschenberg engaged with the Inferno to create modern images that make visible Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century poetry. The first part explores the physical and visual nature of the drawings; the second provides a context in Rauschenberg’s career during the early 1950s; the third provides an account of the production of the illustrations, drawing on the application for a fellowship that Rauschenberg made in 1958 to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; the fourth reviews the early reception of the drawings, focusing on papers written by both John Cage and Dore Ashton; the fifth considers later scholarship by Laura Auricchio, Rosalind Krauss, Thomas Crow, and Hiroko Ikegami; and the sixth considers Rauschenberg’s drawings in relation to manuscript illuminations made by Sandro Botticelli in the fifteenth century. The remainder of the article identifies a number of images that Rauschenberg appropriated from the contemporary print media and considers specifically how he used them to illustrate Dante’s text. The paper concludes that Rauschenberg did indeed adhere closely to Dante’s text while also making “mute poetry” in a modern idiom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-103
Number of pages27
JournalWord & Image
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
  • Dore Ashton (1928–)
  • John Cage (1912–92)
  • John Ciardi (1916–86)
  • John Ruskin (1819–1900)
  • Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008)
  • T. S. Eliot (1888–1965)


Dive into the research topics of '“Visibile Parlare”: Rauschenberg’s drawings for Dante’s Inferno'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this