Study Guide

Purgatorio Art and Culture

By Dante Alighieri

Art and Culture

Dante, the author of Purgatorio, is keen to show that his writing has a legitimate social use. So his depictions of art – poetry, music, painting, and sculpture – all function as a means either of turning individuals (such as penitent souls in Purgatory) away from vice or moving them to praise God. From Dante’s perspective, the most important social use of art is to celebrate Christianity. However, the narrative also outlines a very personal aspect of art for Dante: he puts himself in a genealogy of poets, heralding himself not only as the foremost poet of the current (in the early 1300s) dolce stil novo style, but also as more than just a lyric poet. Placing himself in the company of great epic poets like Virgil and Statius, Dante also establishes himself as a master of the epic genre.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Check out the instances in which painting, sculpture, music, or poetry pop up in the text. What message do these pieces of art all convey?
  2. How is the function of art different on earth than in Purgatory? Consider the episode with Casella in Canto II.
  3. What is Dante’s opinion of the poets Guinizzelli or Arnaut Daniel? What about Guittone? Based on this, what of poetic style does Dante consider himself a foremost advocate?
  4. Why do both Virgil and Statius serve as Dante’s guides? What might it mean that Dante places himself in the company of such renowned epic poets?

Chew on This

In Purgatorio, there are many references to nature as an artist. This points back to God as the ultimate creator and craftsman.

Although Cato scolds Casella for using art in a sinful way, art has its place and its function in Purgatory – namely, to convey a Christian message to all souls.