1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Botticelli's Inferno

December 28, 2020

Botticelli's paintings still fascinate people more than 500 years after his death. But the artist also had a dark side. He painted and drew hell as described by the poet Dante. The work was considered lost for centuries.

Filmstill  Botticelli Inferno
Image: TV Plus 2016 /Andreas Schwenger

Even during his lifetime, the works of Renaissance painter Botticelli were highly regarded - the powerful Medici family were his patrons. Today, his famous works attract hundreds of thousands of gallery visitors.

Die  Venus von Sandro Botticelli in den Uffizien in Florenz Filmstill
Image: TV Plus 2016/Andreas Schwenger

But Botticelli, known for paintings like "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera," also had a dark side. He painted and drew Hell as the poet Dante had described it, and it took him more than a decade to do so. One of his works inspired American writer Dan Brown to pen a bestseller. The painting in question is the "Mappa dell' Inferno," the Abyss of Hell. The work was lost for centuries, the original sketch locked away in the Vatican.

Mappa dell'Inferno  von Sandro Botticelli Filmstill  Botticelli Inferno
The "Mappa dell'Inferno" of Sandro BotticelliImage: TV Plus 2016/Andreas Schwenger

For the documentary "Botticelli Inferno," the vaults of the Vatican were opened, allowing the filmmakers to tell the story of this masterpiece. The way to paradise leads through the nine circles of hell ("Inferno" in Italian,) as well as purgatory. Only those who experience the torture of hell will get into paradise - possibly! Botticelli brought to life Dante’s descriptions of the nine circles of hell in a total of 102 detailed drawings.

Botticelli-Zeichnung zu Dantes Göttlicher Komödie
Image: Gemeinfrei

The central, lavishly colored work is the "Abyss of Hell” - a kind of map through the Inferno, showing the various circles. It’s a fascinating work whose depicted cruelty makes viewers shudder, but which also arouses our curiosity about the secrets it conceals. What more does this mysterious picture still have to reveal to us?

Botticelli is considered one of the most important artists of the Renaissance. He repeatedly broke with convention and brought numerous innovations to painting. More than 500 years after his death, he still influences popular culture, inspiring artists as diverse as Lady Gaga and Dan Brown. 

Broadcasting Hours: 

DW English

FRI 05.02.2021 – 01:15 UTC
FRI 05.02.2021 – 05:15 UTC
SAT 06.02.2021 – 15:15 UTC
SUN 07.02.2021 – 19:15 UTC
MON 08.02.2021 – 09:15 UTC

Cape Town UTC +2 | Delhi UTC +5,5 | Hong Kong UTC +8
Lagos UTC +1 | Cape Town UTC +2 | Nairobi UTC +3 
San Francisco UTC -8 | Edmonton UTC -7 | New York UTC -5
London UTC +0 | Berlin UTC +1 | Moscow UTC +3

DW Deutsch+

MON 08.02.2021 – 09:15 UTC

Vancouver UTC -8 | New York UTC -5 | Sao Paulo UTC -3