'Paolo and Francesca da Rimini'
Watercolour on paper, dated 1862, 31.7 x 60.3cm, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford
The poets Dante and Virgil (centre) encounter the tragic lovers, Paolo and Francesca, swept in the flaming winds of the Second Circle of Hell (right) in punishment for their adulterous love. The left compartment shows a flashback: the lovers are moved to embrace as they read the story of Lancelot and Guenevere.
The inscription records Dante's exclamation: `Alas! How many sweet thoughts, how much desire, led them to this unhappy pass.'
The flames are Rossetti's invention. They suggest simultaneously the ardours of love and the torments of hell. Although Dante does not mention fires, Rossetti makes the flames blow diagonally in the wind that characterises Dante's Second Circle.