Rauschenberg's "XXIV Drawings for Dante's Inferno"
Rauschenberg’s XXXIV Drawings for Dante’s Inferno, were executed in 1959 and 1960. The clam-shell box consists of 34 lithographs on single ply paper. Rauschenberg’s point of departure is the John Ciardi translation of Dante’s “Inferno” published in 1954. This colloquial version was highly circulated at the time and presents the Dante’s prose in a detailed an easy-to-understand language. In this sense Rauschenberg’s book is directed towards an audience that would both have knowledge of his own work and the work of Ciardi’s “Inferno”.
Rauschenberg presents his lithographs separated from Dante’s poem, rather including each illustration within a paper folder with the correlating Canto of each “Inferno” illustration. To create the series of lithographs Rauschenberg used combine, transfer and collage techniques with a variety of mediums including colored pencil, crayon, gauche, watercolor, wash and pencil. The final “illustrations” are lithographs of Rauschenberg’s drawings, rather than the drawings themselves.
As an allegory Dante’s poem is prescient to who ever takes up the task of visually articulating his prose. As is such Robert Rauschenberg’s interpretations are alive to meanings particular to his time and place. Rauschenberg incorporates contemporaneous visual culture to make the “Inferno” specific to his zeitgeist. Rauschenberg chose to only depict “Inferno” which may suggest his particular historical perspective. “As a closeted gay man in that homophobic decade…Rauschenberg knew that sexual love and damnation were indissolubly intertwined: No Beatrice was going to lead him to salvation. So Hell was what he chose to depict…” Rauschenberg focuses on the Inferno to inform its audiences that salvation is for the few.