Reimagining Dante’s Divine Comedy – Sandro Botticelli’s Celestial Geographies


At first it was believed that Tlön was a mere chaos, an irresponsible licence of the imagination; now it is known that it is a cosmos and that the intimate laws which govern it have been formulated, at least provisionally.

                                                                                                –Jorge Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius


The period 1480- 1495* in which Sandro Botticelli was laboriously executing a commission to illustrate a manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici was a time of great intellectual and scientific foment in Renaissance Florence. Leon Battista Alberti had already published his treatise on perspective, which revolutionized how space was represented in the arts and in 1482 the first editions of Ptolemy’s Geography became printed and widely available with maps in Florence. This text extended the implications of the Almagest (which formulated a rigidly hierarchalized, geocentric systemization of the celestial bodies and their movement in the cosmos), to the earth’s surface – proposing a mathematical scheme for representing and measuring space on a two-dimensional plane.


However Ptolemy did not only propose the grid of coordinates, latitudes and longitudes that made the modern science of cartography possible; he also proposed an entirely new view of terreaqueous geography. This view overturned both Aristotelian cosmography and Christian theosophy. Gone was the self-contained disc of the oikoumene favoured by the Ancients, and the T-O configuration, or Eastward-facing maps which usually took Jerusalem as their centre, developed in the medieval period. Space was no longer conceived as Christianized, allegorical or metaphorical, but as mathematically accountable.


It was in this environment of global discovery, cartographical innovation and fundamental reforms in the notion of geographical space and the possibilities for its representation on paper, that Botticelli undertook (for the second time),* the task of illustrating the Divine Comedy. Botticelli did not choose an easy task when he translated Dante’s epic cosmographical schema into a series of illustrations. He wrestled with a subject that ‘touche[d] the very limits of the power of words and images.’ (Breuer 2001, p.15). Indeed, in his quest to give visual expression to the schematized yet illusive territories of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso –Botticelli’s task was not dissimilar to that of the cartographers of his day, struggling to give form to Ptolemy’s vision of the map.


This paper will argue that Botticelli employed a contemporary, cartographical approach to charting Dante’s celestial, illusive and fictional geographies. Far from seeing Botticelli merely as a technician of ‘form’ and ‘master of the flowing line’,* isolated from the intellectual and scientific advances of his day, I will claim that Botticelli was in fact deeply implicated in them – as the astronomical and cartographical instruments that he included in his portrait of St Augustine suggest.


Caught between his quest to literalise the Commedia’s ‘emplaced’ world-view and his own perspective as a Renaissance man, I will show how Botticelli’s manuscript functions as a territorial and ideological ‘map’ offering a vital and dynamic site of cartographical and spatial discourse. Through a consideration of the historical context of which Botticelli was a part, the manuscript’s structural, spatial and pictorial organization and Dante’s paratext, this essay will argue that the fictive celestial geographies of Dante’s text allows Botticelli to open up and orchestrate a site of spatial play in which imaginary and real worlds, placed and unplaced geoegraphies, the celestial and terrestrial co-exist and collide.


Florentine Map-making & the Arts


It is not coincidental that contemporaneous with the twenty-year period in which ‘Botticelli was obsessed by the study of Dante’ (Clark 1976, p.8), Florence formed the epicentre of the Italian map trade before moving onto the new capitals of map-making culture, Venice and Rome, from the late 1520s onwards (see Woodward 1995, p.3). In this climate the workshop of the painter and miniaturist Francesco Rosselli, ‘the earliest commercial map seller known to us’ (Skelton 1985, p.94) was key. According to David Buissert, at his atelier artists and cartographers were melded together by a nexus of ‘frequent informal contacts’ (Buisseret 2003, p.37). In the atmosphere of late-Medieval Florence non-specialist printing workshops of the period made little or no distinction between figurative and cartographical prints. This is because, as Buissert notes, ‘many painters could turn their hands to mapmaking, and many cartographer were also painters’ (Buisseret 2003, p.46). It is therefore unsurprising that offsets of intaglio prints can be found on the backs of Atlases,* or that the ‘map aesthetic’ that Woodward identifies, was also common to the arts.


Indeed, the relatively new technology of copperplate engraving implemented for the printing of maps in Florence, has also been ‘convincingly linked to the goldsmith’s art.’ (Woodward 1996, p.89). It is possible that Botticelli (whose name recalls ‘battigello’, the fifteenth-century name for a goldsmith, and who was apprenticed to his brother Antonio’s goldsmith workshop briefly before joining Fra Filippo’s painting academy), may have encountered map-makers and map-making techniques there.


Map culture in Florence was not only supported by the blossoming local trade but by wider discourses which explicitly linked the cartographer’s art to that of the figurative artists’ and to wider cultural and humanist concerns. The principle of eliding the painter and cartographer had its roots in the topographical realism of many of the late Gothic and early Renaissance painters, and in the shared primacy of observation from life for both craftsmen. However the congruence between the visual and cartographic arts received fresh life in the walk of Alberti’s development of the velo – the perspective grid. In fact, it was precisely this viscose boundary line that inspired the cartographical genius of Leonardo who could ‘delineate large areas of countryside either planimetrically or in bird’s-eye view’ (Buisseret 2003, 35-6). Such hybridity confirms the coincidence of cartographical and pictorial modalities to the Renaissance mind – ‘It was as if painting and mapping were simply different means of rendering the same newly-visioned reality.’ (Buisseret 2003, 29). Indeed, it was only later, in the sixteenth century when cartography was increasingly imagined as the terrain of trained military engineers, that this association was lost.


The Influence of Ptolemy’s Geography


Though Ptolemy’s Geography was first published by the Florentine Jacopo Angeli in Italy in 1407, the form in which it would have been known to most Florentines was the Francesco Berlinghieri edition published in Florence in 1482. This edition which included 17 + 4 regional maps (four of which were ‘modern’ maps based on post-Ptolemaic findings) and one mappa mundi, were some of the first maps to use classic Ptolemaic equal-area projection and equidistant parallels and meridians (See Shirley 2001, p.9). This Geography was also, significantly for Botticelli, set to a metrical commentary by Berlinghieri, written in verse form (terza rima).

It is crucial that what may have constituted Botticelli’s first encounter with the Ptolemaic world maps, was framed by the context of a broader humanistic and verse tradition. Furthermore, compellingly, the layout and design of this atlas is comparable to the construction of Botticelli’s manuscript: some of the maps are oriented horizontally and across two pages (as Botticelli’s Satan illustration is), and the scale of the Berlinghieri atlas (375 x 440 mm) approximates the original size of Botticelli’s manuscript sheets (325 x 475 mm). Another fact to take into consideration was Berlinghierie’s connections with the Florentine Neoplatonists. Berlinghieri was a member of Marsilio Ficino’s Platonic Academy and Ficino wrote a dedicatory preface of the Geography. Given Botticelli’s court connections and the multiple ways in which the Geography was seen to enhance and complement Platonic studies, means that we cannot exclude the possibility that Botticelli himself met Berlinghieri.


The general lesson to be drawn from this is that the new geography was not considered ancillary to, but deeply implicated and interwoven in the fabric of broader cultural and arts trends. Equally, though neither Cosimo I de’Medici’s sumptuous Gardaroba Nuova or Pope Gregory’s iconic ‘Gallery of Maps’ had yet been built at the time of Botticelli’s summons to Rome in 1481-2 when he was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to paint the Sistine Chapel, he may well have been exposed to the Vatican library for which Sixtus IV (1471-84), had solicited three copies of the Geography. All of this suggests that at the time of working on the Commedia Botticelli would not only have had ample opportunity to encounter up-to-date and current ideas circulating about Ptolemaic cosmography, and Ptolemaic maps published both in Florence and abroad, but would have been exposed to these things within an overtly interdisciplinary context.


Botticelli’s Mappae Mundi


Given the probable contact that Botticelli had with the Berlinghieri Geography, it is unsurprising that he turned to cartographical models when shaping his codex – these were pre-existent and easily importable metaphors for translating world geographies onto the page. The most obvious way in which Botticelli demonstrates his debt to the map culture of the period is the structural makeup of his illustration cycle and the inclusion of three diagrammatic maps in his Commedia which frame the three parts of the trilogy.


These alternative mappae mundi represent Hell, Purgatory and Paradise respectively. The Inferno map is the most detailed and developed, representing a spiralling vortex of the nine circles of hell in which the final circle is depicted as a flat, semi-circular disk. The second map, designed for the first canto of the Purgatorio depicts a conical shaped Mount Purgatory set on a circular island within an ocean. The map of the Paradiso, given in the second canto of the manuscript cycle, presents Beatrice and Dante in a two-dimensional circle beside a symbolic representation of the Ptolemaic astronomical system. In this sense the structure of Botticelli’s codex follows the internal logic of an atlas – moving from macrocosm to microcosm, from an attempt to render a global surface in three dimensions, to the rendering of more specific geographies on flatter, two-dimensional planes.


Indeed, the schema which Botticelli uses demonstrates that he was probably au fait with cartographical taxonomies such as ‘cosmography’ and ‘chorography’ and conventions distinguishing ‘global’ from ‘large scale’ representations in the period. As if in imitation of Ptolemy’s projected grid, Botticelli also make overt attempts to mathematicize his celestial zones: formulating spatial systems whose territories are arranged in a proximate system of latitudes – divided either by the strategic placement of the circles of hell, the terraces of purgatory or the planetary spheres of Paradise.


The attempt to render the sphericality of the space of the Inferno and Purgaotrio through their cylindrical edifices, and either lilting or depreciating elevation of their paths (which spiral up or down), evokes the ‘trapezoid’ shape of the planesphere included in the Berlinghieri Geography. Such representation of spherical space and movement is also echoed by the spatial organization and arrangement of the subsidiary images following the maps of the opening cantos, which faithfully reproduce the cyclical movement that they have been assigned in their respective world charts. In each case the relationship between the chart and the map substrates is not ambiguous, but precise. Like blueprints, the space of the global charts recreates in miniature the space which unfolds in the individual canto illustrations. Thus within the illustrated cantos of Hell (as the topography of the chart of Hell implies), Virgil and Dante’s progress through the realm follows a downwards motion, generally anticlockwise from the right to the left of the picture plane. In anomalous cases when this pattern is interrupted (as it is when they reach Dis in the fifth circle of hell), this change in direction is also reflected on a large scale in the individual canto illustration (canto viii).


In his scrupulous rendering of the relationships between part and whole, and in the formal structure that he imposes on the world maps, Botticelli’s illustrations cannot help but evoke the regular and systematic vocabulary of the Ptolemaic projected grid, in which terrestrial and cosmic schemes were synchronized. The relationship between the whole represented by the mappa mundae and their constituent parts is much like the relationship between a graph and meticulously charted points on its axis.


Continuous Narrative


Botticelli’s emphasis on spatial realism, his desire to construct plausible, three-dimensional space that can be navigated and oriented is also suggested by his use of continuous narrative* as an ongoing device in his Commedia. Lew Andrews tell us that the use of continuous narrative in the pictorial plane was ‘an integral, even a progressive feature of quattrocento practice’ (Andrews 1995, p.15) which did not contradict the ‘simultaneous viewing’ implied by one-point linear perspective –throwing the unity of the picture into disarray – rather it implied a hyper-simultaneity, a hyper realism, in which painting assumed a temporal and spatial as well as a iconographic function. Thus the Renaissance painter of continuous narrative conceptualized his work not as a mirror or Alberti’s window, but as a ‘stage’, a ‘spacious setting in which actions can occur.’ (Andrews 1995, p.8).


The existence of continuous narrative in Botticelli’s illustrations for the Commedia is partly determined by his over-arching formal plans and their ambitious desire to recreate the complete action of the canto. Thus in Inferno xxvi, for example, the progress of Dante and Virgil is painstakingly and methodically recorded, remaining faithful in every detail to Dante’s text. However Botticelli also goes beyond the call of duty – providing the viewer with proleptic and apanaleptic clues which prefigure and recall previous action. Thus Inferno viii prefigures Virgil and Dante’s entrance into the city of Dis by portraying the flaming cemetery which burns beyond its walls, while Inferno xxxi-xxxii demonstrates continuous narrative occurring between canto illustrations. Thus while the preceding canto depicts the chained giants’ torsos emerging from a well, the succeeding illustration shows Virgil and Dante emerging beneath their feet.


The Scroll and Cinematic Film

The impression is that you could fit these episodes together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create not only an ongoing narrative but a coherent narrative geography. It is for this reason that critics like Brueur have used the metaphors of the scroll and cinematic film to describe the ‘form and narrative structure of the cycle that breaks the acknowledged rules of book illustration.’(See Breuer 2001, P.31).  In this respect, Botticelli’s illustrations do not only demonstrate an internal structural consistency between part and whole, but continuity between parts, a ‘space-time continuum’ (Breuer 2001, 31).


Thus the three distinct worlds that Dante evokes each have their own particular spatial language, internal logic and realism. He treats these spaces, in other words, as real geographies: susceptible and governed by the same logical and spatial laws as real places, which can be moved around, viewed from a distance and up close. Most importantly they are not internally differentiated but conceived as one, connected whole.


Dante’s Illustrators


The part-celestial, part-terrestrial, part-real, part-imagined worlds of Dante’s Commedia would present a challenge for any illustrator, following as he does in the Medieval quest narrative tradition characterized by Eugène Vinaver as ‘a beautiful parade of symbols and bright visions.’ (Bennett 1963, p.81). Other roughly contemporary illustrators of the Commedia responded in a way which mirrored the foggy, allegorical and abstract nature of the text. Thus Guglielmo Giraldi (1478-82) and the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum (c. 1440) depict Dante and Virgil moving through a luminously coloured and magical, though flat and hallucinatory terrain. The thing that marks out Botticelli’s illustrations from these images and from influences like the Domenico di Michelino fresco, is his attention to creating an internally consistent, logically plausible, sculpted sense of space.


The illustrations for Purgatorio x and Purgatorio xii are particularly interesting in this regard, since they evoke a meta-narrative discourse contrasting ‘real’ and ‘pictorial’ spaces. In Purgatorio x, Dante and Virgil encounter the inner marble wall of the Purgatory’s first terrace, embossed ‘with carvings such that not only Polycletus but nature would be put to shame there.’ (Canto x, ll.31-33). On the right hand side of the illustration in a picture-within-a-picture fashion, Botticelli has depicted a painting of the judgement of Emperor Trajan, which he has distinguished from the rest of the ‘life-like’ carvings in this terrace by explicitly setting it within a framed, two-dimensional pictorial space and frame. Though it is a very accomplished ‘painting’, compared to the rest of the illustration it appears stiff and formulaic. And, as if to explicitly critique the limitations of this method of pictorial representation, Botticelli depicts two cripple-backed sinners crawling past the front of the painting on all fours. Thus he trumps the traditional notion of excellence in the arts (a complicated battle scene) with his evocation of a far more advanced type of spatial representation, which captures movements and the passing of time. Clearly distinguishing his illustrations from the limitations contingent upon other forms of representation in the visual arts, Botticelli seems to promote an understanding of his representation of the world of the Commedia that goes beyond the reach of mere 'pictures'.


Moving Forward from the Medieval World-View


Dante’s Medieval world view was one in which the cosmographical principle ‘of a unitary creation and a providential order’ (Woodward 2007, p.57) was reflected by the harmony of each part to its whole. This view, which promoted ‘the stability and authority of the universal frame’ (Cornish 2000, p.57), seems to bear out Foucault’s observation that Medieval space was ‘the space of emplacement’ (See the bibliography for his essay on ‘heterotopias’).


Dante’s medieval understanding of the universe is echoed by the strategic and systematic relationship between Botticelli’s illustrations, and their creation of deep, sculptural space. However, if Ptolemaic innovations provided the tools to understand global geography, they also threw into relief, along with considerable developments in exploration and technology, the factual inadequacy of the Medieval world map and the need to construct an entirely new world picture. As David Woodward suggests, ‘this was not straightforward.’ (Woodward 2007, p.64). Having to reconstruct the world map in view of Ptolemy’s method, in combination with ‘modern’ discoveries of new landmasses including America and the Portuguese discoveries on route to India, led to a fundamental shift in the way that people conceptualized cartographical space. It was no longer finite and ordered, but fluid, unfixed and open to interpretation.


This ‘remapping of medieval natural philosophy’ (Lestringant 1994, p.4) was not a linear and smooth transition, but a cobbled together, ad hoc, speculative and experimental process which suggested a ‘growing apprehension’ but not a total command over, global geography. As Scafi notes:

‘Maps no longer needed to present a stable image of a world … They became provisional documents, showing, for a specific moment in time, a world that needed to be constantly redrawn in the light of further discoveries. Any transhistorical quality was lost.’ (Scafi 2006, p.256).


Maps had become works in progress – full of gaps and white spaces – expressing not systems of fixed, authorative lines, but outlines that could be, like a palimpsest, overruled at any stage. The map was a working model, a mosaic, ‘a three-quarters empty canvas’ which left geographers ‘free to inscribe on it the delineation of newly ‘invented’ or disordered lands; a form, at once closed and open, full and lacunary’. (Lestringant 1994, p.7-8.) Thus the systematic rigor of the Ptolemaic projection, masked a radical and entrenched sense of spatial doubt and disorientation.


Though the ‘fictive’ nature of Botticelli’s undertaking is implicit in his task, such an awareness of the map as an epistemologically relative, pliable surface expressing both fictive and dislocated truths is a counter-force running throughout Botticelli’s illustrations. Indeed, superimposed upon the structural logic of the Inferno, is a deep spatial anxiety, expressed synechdocally by the fleets of tormented flyers and writhing souls, or by the sprawling forest of thorns which overtakes the picture frame in Inferno xiii. In some cases the path which usually couriers the pair to safety has been almost entirely eclipsed (Inferno xxxiii), while in other instances Botticelli has shorn off his character’s legs to emphasize the anarchic disorder unfolding around them (Inferno xxii).


Particularly interesting in this regard is the contrast between the regular and geometric composition that Botticelli executed for the Baldini illustration of Inferno iv and the corresponding part of the text displayed in the Chart of Hell, in which naked demons shoot haphazardly across the foreground. Though trying to identify where Dante ends and Botticelli begins in these illustrations is not always clear, it seems that in the articulation of spatial chaos and dislocation, Botticelli goes beyond the call of duty. Indeed Botticelli extends this space-oriented playfulness throughout the Commedia, allowing the orientation of the page and picture frame to become notably dynamic: simulating the twists and turns of Dante’s journey. Thus in Inferno xv-xvi, there is a marked verticality in the design of page, which makes Dante and Virgil appear to be falling down the perpendicular path. And, between the world maps and the following canto illustrations we are required to step back and forth, adjusting our focus, as we are in the penultimate drawing for the Paradiso where Dante is set back in a tableaux in deep perspective, or the illustration of the final circle of Hell, where the large satanic figure ‘fixed upside down’ unexpectedly occupies a double-page spread in the manuscript. Perhaps it is no coincidence that flying is one of the master metaphors, both of Renaissance art, the Commedia and Botticelli’s illustrations. It seems indeed, as Sordello counsels Dante in Purgatorio, that ‘No fixed place is set for us’ (canto vii, ll.40).


The Purgatorio and Paradiso


Since Botticelli’s illustrations are presumed unfinished, we cannot extrapolate too much from the minimalistic appearance of many images in the cycle. However, it cannot be denied that certain portions of the manuscript are much more emphatically worked-in than others, and this is not purely coincidental. Similarly, though a certain degree of abstraction as Dante ascends from the Inferno, up through Mount Purgatory and into the stars, in implicit in Dante’s text – Botticelli literalizes this in a particularly forceful way. Mirroring the voice of Dante’s narrator which becomes increasingly entranced and figurative, the pictorial image also becomes more sketchy and fantastical. In the Purgatorio this loss of naturalism is suggested by the increasing number of hypnogoguic and hallucinatory images –reflecting the centrality of dream passages to the Purgatorio as a whole. In Purgatorio ix, for example, a textual dream-sequence, the pictorial plane is correspondingly impressionistic and oneiric. Similarly in Purgatorio xxix, which depicts the earthly paradise and Triumph of the Church, there is a complex overlay of imagery in which almost all sense of site-specificity is lost. This displacement is perhaps best embodied, however, by the illustration for Pugatorio xxv in which Dante is depicted stranded at the bottom of the cliff. A new gulf has opened up between the space of the illustrations and the course of the narrative. Of course, by the Paradiso, all but the most fundamental elements – Dante and Beatrice contained within a very simple compass-drawn circle- have become effaced. Here, it is precisely this void, this space, this placelessness which is celebrated.


In-keeping with its status as both heterotopias and utopia, the anti-cartographical impulse in the Paradiso is conveyed by the distinct temporal and spatial economy of this volume’s illustrations. Unlike the Inferno which has an explicitly crowded and chaotic aesthetic, here the visual and topographical armature is visibly stripped-back and the passage of time is indicated by increasingly elemental and abstract transmutations: by hand gestures, or the changing patterns of flames that encircle the principle characters in their tondo-like frame. Thus the illustrations for this book can yield a ‘flicker-book’-like effect. The continuous narrative method continues to be used in the Paradiso, but the rapid, subtle, transitions between states, has the effect of siphoning and telescoping both time and space down to an atemporal and spatial homogeneity. By Paradiso xxii the contained spatial logic abstractly implied by the vehicular sphere is entirely dispensed with, signalled by the appearance of Jacob’s ladder. Thenceforth the small pinions of light are miraculously dispersed in a milky-way-like spiral in the eighth sphere of heaven, which seems to indicate the permanent though euphoric loss of both space and time.


This premonition is finally realised in the penultimate canto of Paradiso xxxii in which Dante is depicted with Beatrice and the Virgin Mary from a considerable distance surrounded by the empty space of the manuscript page. It reaches its culmination in the final blank page of the Paradiso which contains no place and no space at all. (For further discussion see Breuer 2001, p.288.)


The Pliable, Experimental Surface


To the early Renaissance mind, as we have shown, there was an intimate connection between the chorographer or cartographer and the artist, who were seen to engage in comparable tasks. This is especially true since, in general, the pictorial arts were seen to have a more empirical and scientific function and the maps were seen to have a less scientific function than they do today. For, as this essay has attempted to demonstrate, though Ptolemy’s Geography proposed rigorous and systematic guide-lines for the portrayal of geographical space – a challenge eagerly taken up by early Renaissance innovators, both the number of possible theories arguing for contrasting views of the nature of global geography and the increasing degree of information about new global territories meant that the space of the map did not present a fixed frame, but dislodged from the Medieval and classical models – a pliable, experimental surface and ‘polysemantic structure.’ (Fiorani 2005, p.7.)


These developments are reflected in varying ways in Botticelli’s illustrations. On one level the codex presents a vast, cogent geography which represents a chorographic level of engagement and immersion in Dante’s texts. The ways in which these highly spatially-sensitive images interchange and exchange is reminiscent of the ‘different systems of representation (the plan view, the perspective view, and the bird’s-eye view) and different modes of description (verbal and visual, cartographical and historical, mathematical and literal) [which] coexist[ed] side by side’ (Fiorani 2005, p.7) in Renaissance maps. On the other hand there is a deep vein of playfulness and experimentation that runs throughout Botticelli’s rendering of the Commedia, in either a move towards entropy, displacement or the refutation of logical space. This tendency is perhaps best epitomised by the final images that Botticelli supplied for his Inferno and Paradiso—one being blank and the other depicting a flat, placeless, diagrammatic Satan (the antitype of Christ as depicted in early Medieval mps representing the site of meaning and origination of the word). Yet this decentred anti-imago is also the centre of place – as the compass-drawn circle around his navel suggests.


What we see emerging in the Commedia codex then, is a dialectic between real and imaginary space. Botticelli turns assumptions on their heads by using imaginary space as the site to locate real space as well as to suggest magical, improbable places. In this sense he throws into doubt real and fictional geographies. Thus the use of geographical language in the Commedia partakes in a broader investigation into the power of art to convey realities. In this role as geographical realist and fabricator we can place him alongside cartographers and close contemporaries of Botticelli like Le Testu and Thévet who, according to Lestringant, were not interested in the ‘right form’ of the world, but in the map as a discursive, fictive environment, ‘a structure at the same time closed and open’ (Lestringant 1994, p.117).


This apostrophises what Greenblatt diagnoses as ‘the Renaissance fascination with the invention – at once the finding and the fabricating – of reality.’ (Lestringnat 1994, p.xiv.) In this light, it becomes possible to view Botticelli’s Commedia as single, unified atlas, which in proposing multiple geographies, multiple spatial relations both real and fictional, shares in its basic features with the Renaissance map described by Fiorani as a potentially ‘unresolved combination of different systems of representation and modes of description … a totality of space made up of locations of sites ad fragments of places.’ (Fiorani 2005, p.8). Space, as it is presented by Botticelli here is not Dantean cosmography, it does not represent a vision of the kosmos as an ‘Ornament or, if you will, something beautiful, pleasant and delectable’ (Lestringant 1994, p.32), but as something shifting and unstable. But perhaps in this way Botticelli remains ultimately true to the Commedia, to the depiction of dystopias and utopias, or formless in-between states, which as the ‘u’-suggests, both are and are not places. For the difficulty of his task is enshrined in ‘the paradoxical question: where is nowhere?’ (Scafi 2006, p.6).



*These date parameters are suggested by Breuer in his Introduction. See Bruer 2001, 15-39

* Botticelli’s first attempt at illustrating the Comedy survive in the Baldini engravings. See Breuer 2001, 13-39.

*master of the flowing line as characterised by Ruskin and the Pre-Raphelite aesthetes.

* For more information about the interlinking of the figurative and cartographic arts please read Woodward’s fascinating and accessible lecture (see below). The printing of maps on the back of figurative prints is referred to Woodward 1996,p.59.

* Continuous narrative is a term that relates to a technique of representation whereby the several actions or a chain of events are depicted on the same picture field. So, for example, if a walker was depicted several times at different points in his journey along a road in the same picture, this would be a use of continuous narrative.


Bibliography & Further Reading






Alighieri, Dante. 1939.  The Divine Comedy, 1: Inferno, trans. John D Sinclair (New York, Oxford University Press).

Alighieri, Dante. 1939.  The Divine Comedy, 2: Purgatorio, trans. John D Sinclair (New York, Oxford University Press).

Alighieri, Dante. 1939.  The Divine Comedy, 3: Paradiso, trans. John D Sinclair (New York, Oxford University Press).




Andrews, Lew. 1995. Story and Space in Renaissance Art: The Rebirth of Continuous Narrative (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Bennett, J.A.W ed. 1963.Essays On Malory (Oxford, Clarendon Press).

Botticelli, Guilo., Carlo Argan ed. 1957. The Taste of Our Time: Collection planned and directed by Albert Skira, (Editions d’Art Albert Skira).

Breuer, David ed. 2001.Sandro Botticelli: The Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy (London, Royal Academy Publications).

Buisseret, David. 2003.  The Mapmakers’ Quest: Depicting New Worlds in Renaissance Europe (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Clark, Kenneth. 1976. The Drawings by Sandro Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy (London, Thames and Hudson).

Cornish, Alison. 2000. Reading Dante’s Stars (New Haven and London, Yale University Press).

Fiorani, Francesca. 2005.  The Marvel of Maps: Art, Cartography and Politics in Renaissance Italy (New Haven and London, Yale University Press).

Great Master. 1993. The Great Masters: Sandro Botticelli (London, Park Lane).

Lestringant, Frank.  1994. Mapping the Renaissance World: The Geographical Imagination in the Age of Discovery (Oxford, Polity Press).

Randles, W.G.L. 2000.Geography, Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance (Hampshire, published in the Variorum Collected Studies Series).

Richardson, Brian. 2009. Manuscript Culture in Renaissance Italy, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Scafi, Alessandro. 2006.  Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth (London,The British Library).

Shirley, Rodney W. 2001. The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps1472-1700 (USA,  Early World Press).

Skelton, R.A., Bagrow, Leo. 1985.  History of Cartography, second edition, (Chicago, Chicago Precedent Publishing inc.).  

Turner, Nicholas. 1986. Florentine Drawings of the sixteenth century (London, British Museum Publications).

Woodward, David. 1996. The Panizzi Lectures - Maps as Prints in the Italian Renaissance: Makers, Distributors & Consumers (London, The British Library Press).

Woodward, David ed. 2007.The History of Cartography: Vol. III. Cartography in the European ReaissancePart I, (Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press).




Foucault, Michel.1967,‘Of Other Spaces: Heterotopias’, 27. 03. 2012