'Dante in meditation holding a pomegranate'

Sketch drawing of a young man sitting down

Ink and pencil on paper, drawn about 1852, 22.9 x 20cm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Paul Mellon Fund

This drawing shows Dante holding a pomegranate, symbolising his journey to Hell (by analogy with the story of Proserpine, who ate a pomegranate while in the underworld). Because Proserpine returned to earth every year, the pomegranate was used in Christian symbolism to denote immortality. Perhaps its inclusion suggests that Dante's fame will, after all, be lasting, despite warnings against this that are found elsewhere in Dante's writings (canto XI of 'Purgatorio'.)

It is a study for a watercolour 'Giotto painting the portrait of Dante', which is not included in this exhibition.