Courtauld Institute American Art Research Seminar

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventInvited talk


Imagery, Allegory and Intention in Robert Rauschenberg’s Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno

In the spring of 1958 Robert Rauschenberg embarked upon the long labour of making one illustration for each of the thirty-four cantos of Dante’s Inferno, the first canticle of the great 14th century allegory, The Divine Comedy. The project was finally completed in November 1960 and displayed in New York the following month. To make the drawings Rauschenberg employed the technique of solvent transfer, which involved soaking printed mass media images in lighter fuel and rubbing them on their backs with an old ballpoint pen, so as to transfer the ink for the magazine clipping to the drawn sheet below. Rauschenberg thus translated Dante’s poem into the visual vernacular of contemporary America and this lecture explores the interpretive possibilities raised by the discovery of the artist’s source materials. In engaging with Dante’s great allegory – itself urgently addressed to contemporary social, political, religious and philosophical concerns – how far was Rauschenberg allowing his own work to bear upon some of the most pressing questions in American social and political life in the late 1950s?
Period27 Feb 2017
Event typePublic lecture/seminar/debate
LocationLondon, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Rauschenberg
  • Dante
  • Drawing
  • Inferno
  • American Art
  • Krcma