John Flaxman (1755 - 1826)
An English sculptor and illustrator, John Flaxman's interest in the arts began at an early age. He learned modeling from his father, a plaster-case maker and began studying at the Royal Academy at the age of fifteen. In 1787-1794 Flaxman studied classical art in Rome.
In 1793 Flaxman created 110 line drawings of Dante's Commedia for Thomas Hope, an English aristocrat who had commissioned him to produce the illustrations. This collection of works was reissued in 1807 under the title, Compositions from the Divine Poem of Dante. These drawings are known for their spare simplicity of line and composition. Classical in spirit they have none of the moodier, tempestuous qualities of Henry Fuseli's depictions of Dante. Flaxman's Dante drawings are reminiscent of bas-reliefs, his outline contours reveal little sense of the bodies of figures, much less any effort to capture the vitality and emotional nuances of Dante's descriptions. While not as compelling and captivating as Doré's engravings, Flaxman's illustrations influenced many later artists, among them Blake, Genelli, Pinelli, Girodet, David and Koch. David in particular admired the "sublime naivite" of Flaxman's drawings. Along with other artists such as Joshua Reynolds, Henry Fuseli, and Jacques-Louis David, Flaxman forms part of a long line of eighteenth-century artists greatly inspired by Dante's rich visual imagination.