The Role of Dante’s Purgatorio in the Development and Representation of Purgatory from the Early Fourteenth Century to the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century

  • Rebekah E Locke

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis studies the development of the doctrine of Purgatory in the Italian peninsula during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Specifically, it considers the responses to Dante’s Purgatorio in literary and visual texts, as this work is considered to be the first example of an independent and hopeful realm of Purgatory. My comparative and interdisciplinary analysis seeks to address the lack of critical attention given to literary and artistic representations of Purgatory in the period following Dante’s landmark poem.
The thesis is divided into four chapters which focus on Dante’s reception in different literary and visual texts. The first chapter examines vernacular commentaries and manuscript illuminations of Dante’s Purgatorio. The second and third chapters analyse visual depictions of Purgatory in the medieval and early modern periods, focusing on frescoes and altarpieces respectively. The final chapter examines the treatment of Purgatory in Federico Frezzi’s Il Quadriregio (1394-1403). Each chapter considers the reception of both the geography and theology of Dante’s Purgatorio, analysing the themes of landscape, transformation, punishment and prayer.
My findings suggest that, despite its innovation and extensive transmission, Purgatorio has a limited influence upon subsequent literary and visual depictions of the realm. Indeed, in addition to Dantean influence, there is evidence that the medieval visionary tradition, the writings of theologians and hagiography play a significant role in the developing representation of Purgatory. This research therefore challenges the critical conception of Dante’s middle realm as an exceptional culmination of previous traditions that transformed the later portrayal of Purgatory. By analysing a range of different media, this thesis not only sheds new light on the reception of Dante’s Purgatorio but also provides a more detailed account of how the doctrine of Purgatory was perceived, transmitted and developed in the Italian peninsula at this time.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsSouth, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorRhiannon J Daniels (Supervisor) & Tristan Kay (Supervisor)

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