Spring in Purgatory: Dante Botticelli C.S. Lewis and a Lost Masterpiece
For slightly over five hundred years, the most famous and popular illustration of Dante's "Divine Comedy" has remained effectively "lost"—although millions have seen it and admired it. It is right out in plain sight and one of the world's most beloved paintings.
C. S. Lewis first read Dante's Inferno at some unknown date in his youth. He first read Purgatory in 1918, when he was nineteen and found himself in a hospital recovering from wounds received in the inferno of World War I. He was an atheist.
Four years later, in 1922, Lewis had just received his B.A. at Oxford and was ready to start the graduate studies that would eventually culminate in a professorship of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Fortunately, in August he started to keep a diary, and he wryly recorded an experience he had on August 28 in London.
I took the desperate resolve of entering the National Gallery, where I finally came to the conclusion that I have no taste for painting. I could make nothing of the Titians. The only thing (besides portraits) that I cared for much were Botticelli's Mars and Venus with satyrs, and Veronese's … "Unfaithfulness" in which I liked the design tho' I confess the actual figures always seem dull to me. However, the Italian rooms are nothing like so boring as the English.
Although Lewis eventually appreciated Titian, he never took any great interest in paintings; but his early affinity for Botticelli continued for the rest of his life. He commented upon Botticelli paintings (specifically "Mars and Venus" and "Primavera") in The Allegory of Love, Rehabilitations, English Literature in the Sixteen Century, An Experiment in Criticism, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, and Spenser's Images of Life.