Show me:
and
Clear all filters

  • 35 items
  • 25 items Explore
  • 48 items
  • 89 items
  • 3,452 items Explore
  • 97 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 41 items
  • 11,371 items Explore
  • 209 items Explore
  • 1,235 items Explore
  • 8,497 items Explore
  • 5,042 items Explore
  • 72 items Explore
  • 167 items Explore
  • 11,070 items Explore
  • 13,625 items Explore
  • 4,639 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 5 items
  • 153 items Explore
  • 2,084 items Explore
  • 2 items
  • 4,754 items Explore
  • 24 items Explore
  • 437 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 19,209 items Explore
  • 34 items Explore
  • 1,028 items Explore
  • 1,113 items Explore
  • 6 items
  • 2,391 items Explore
  • 449 items Explore
  • 29 items
  • 920 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 1 items Explore
  • 5 items
  • 7 items
  • 19,826 items Explore
  • 800 items Explore
  • 19 items
  • 73 items Explore
  • 33 items
  • 800 items
  • 25 items
  • 61 items
  • 28 items
  • 319 items Explore
  • 6 items
  • 44 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 2 items
  • 146 items
  • 2 items
  • 7 items
  • 119 items Explore
  • 119 items
  • 1 items
  • 1,021 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 803 items
  • 95 items
  • 27 items
  • 108 items
  • 29,503 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 3,850 items Explore
  • 1,521 items Explore
  • 403 items
  • 158 items Explore
  • 9,980 items Explore
  • 9,670 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 1 items
  • 39 items
  • 3 items
  • 4 items
  • 6,109 items Explore
  • 7,461 items Explore
  • 4,463 items Explore
  • 1,616 items Explore
  • 929 items Explore
  • 3,493 items Explore
  • 5 items
  • 334 items
  • 1 items
  • 1 items
  • 3,429 items Explore
  • 20 items Explore
  • 354 items Explore
  • 797 items Explore
  • 1,095 items Explore
  • 503 items Explore
  • 1,047 items Explore
  • 1,123 items
  • 89 items
  • 125 items Explore
  • 6,952 items Explore
  • 170 items
  • 310 items
  • 4 items
  • 20 items
  • 61 items
  • 304 items Explore
  • 2 items
  • 2,921 items Explore
  • 1,575 items Explore
  • 203 items
  • 43 items
  • 19,419 items Explore
  • 1,244 items Explore
  • 138 items
  • 843 items Explore
  • 32 items
  • 1 items
  • 132 items Explore
  • 24 items
  • 40 items
  • 20 items
  • 252 items
  • 314 items
  • 743 items Explore
  • 1,893 items
  • 349 items Explore
  • 2,425 items
  • 2,525 items
  • 3 items
  • 3 items
  • 4,390 items Explore
  • 2 items
  • 37,933 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 3,289 items Explore
  • 275 items Explore
  • 8,067 items Explore
  • 31 items
  • 25 items
  • 770 items Explore
  • 3 items
  • 65 items
  • 161 items
  • 52 items
  • 21,766 items Explore
  • 917 items
  • 18 items
  • 22,450 items Explore
  • 2 items
  • 2,337 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 1,030 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 59 items
  • 499 items
  • 3,289 items Explore
  • 175 items
  • 453 items Explore
  • 3 items
  • 21 items
  • 90 items Explore
  • 76 items
  • 281 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 6 items
  • 128 items
  • 294 items
  • 734 items
  • 868 items
  • 1 items
  • 895 items Explore
  • 272 items Explore
  • 11,300 items Explore
  • 760 items Explore
  • 6,052 items Explore
  • 11 items
  • 7,589 items Explore
  • 27 items
  • 5,358 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 3,731 items Explore
  • 9,199 items Explore
  • 7,747 items Explore
  • 200 items
  • 19 items
  • 142 items
  • 7 items
  • 869 items Explore
  • 19 items
  • 4,151 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 1,096 items Explore
  • 223 items
  • 1 items
  • 3,552 items Explore
  • 20 items
  • 696 items Explore
  • 18 items
  • 134 items
  • 6,729 items Explore
  • 15,815 items Explore
  • 3,147 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 8 items
  • 9,323 items Explore
  • 37 items
  • 2 items
  • 21,319 items Explore
  • 129 items
  • 38 items
  • 13,167 items Explore
  • 3,398 items Explore
  • 2,137 items Explore
  • 44 items
  • 42,328 items Explore
  • 635 items Explore
  • 415 items
  • 1 items
  • 24,664 items Explore
  • 218 items
  • 3 items
  • 1 items
  • 20 items
  • 27 items
  • 325 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 217 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 2 items
  • 13,212 items Explore
  • 3 items
  • 10,261 items
  • 9 items
  • 10 items
  • 14 items
  • 25 items
  • 1 items
  • 4,528 items Explore
  • 918 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 464 items
  • 1 items
  • 1 items
  • 220 items
  • 702 items Explore
  • 42 items
  • 2,284 items Explore
  • 1,662 items Explore
  • 15 items
  • 1,928 items Explore
  • 151 items
  • 84 items
  • 10 items Explore
  • 3,137 items Explore
  • 43 items
  • 17 items
  • 12 items
  • 10,682 items Explore
  • 23,104 items Explore
  • 18 items
  • 1 items
  • 1,373 items
  • 180 items Explore
  • 8 items
  • 92 items
  • 13,332 items Explore
  • 3,574 items Explore
  • 2,669 items Explore
  • 4,776 items Explore
  • 22 items
  • 45 items
  • 6,899 items Explore
  • 4,772 items Explore
  • 272 items Explore
  • 2,300 items Explore
  • 2,978 items Explore
  • 3 items
  • 1,865 items Explore
  • 291 items
  • 223 items Explore
  • 470 items Explore
  • 6,120 items Explore
  • 8,810 items Explore
  • 1,858 items Explore
  • 5,793 items Explore
  • 3,339 items Explore
  • 11,064 items Explore
  • 86 items
  • 11 items
  • 1,675 items Explore
  • 7 items
  • 24 items
  • 51 items
  • 5 items
  • 1 items
  • 2,968 items Explore
  • 618 items Explore
  • 62 items
  • 17 items
  • 151 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 87 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 463 items
  • 2 items
  • 996 items Explore
  • 3,612 items Explore
  • 5 items
  • 9,383 items Explore
  • 48 items Explore
  • 3 items
  • 42 items
  • 3 items
  • 13,714 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 1,169 items Explore
  • 92 items
  • 10,562 items Explore
  • 1,002 items Explore
  • 1,920 items
  • 7,566 items Explore
  • 21 items
  • 12,944 items Explore
  • 1,418 items Explore
  • 6 items
  • 9,576 items Explore
  • 16,401 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 1,669 items Explore
  • 180 items
  • 58 items
  • 5,684 items Explore
  • 9,395 items Explore
  • 48 items
  • 25 items
  • 2 items
  • 59 items
  • 3 items
  • 7,394 items Explore
  • 402 items Explore
  • 13 items
  • 4 items
  • 6 items
  • 4 items
  • 103 items Explore
  • 7 items
  • 5 items
  • 480 items
  • 297 items Explore
  • 8,370 items Explore
  • 55 items
  • 22,503 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 7,350 items Explore
  • 5 items
  • 26 items
  • 3,832 items Explore
  • 463 items
  • 339 items Explore
  • 12,692 items Explore
  • 55 items
  • 20 items
  • 7 items
  • 4 items
  • 315 items Explore
  • 434 items
  • 183 items
  • 3,688 items Explore
  • 27 items
  • 1,228 items Explore
  • 2,493 items Explore
  • 732 items Explore
  • 36 items
  • 1,135 items Explore
  • 97 items Explore
  • 24 items
  • 217 items Explore
  • 74,348 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 3,065 items Explore
  • 2,847 items Explore
  • 236 items
  • 3,617 items Explore
  • 1,832 items Explore
  • 4 items
  • 17,342 items Explore
  • 5,508 items Explore
  • 7 items
  • 632 items Explore
  • 85 items
  • 20 items
  • 39 items
  • 76 items
  • 29 items
  • 177 items
  • 3 items
  • 41 items
  • 1,176 items Explore
  • 109 items
  • 805 items
  • 17 items
  • 11,194 items Explore
  • 27 items
  • 13 items
  • 1,548 items Explore
  • 1 items
  • 214 items
  • 17,024 items Explore
  • 85 items
  • 17 items
  • 1 items
  • 9 items
  • 8 items
  • 324 items
  • 2 items
  • 626 items Explore
  • 1,587 items Explore
  • 8 items
  • 1,034 items Explore
  • 2 items
  • 261 items

Select a time period

Or choose a specific year

Clear all filters

Count Ugolino and his Children in the Dungeon

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1770 - 1773 (exh at RA)

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

520 x 720 mm

Order this image

Collection

Knole, Kent

NT 129934

Caption

Ugolino was a real-life political figure of thirteenth-century Pisa, who, entangled in the political rivalry between the Guelph and Ghibelline parties, was imprisoned with his sons and grandchildren and left to die of starvation. The story was popularised by Dante’s fictionalised encounter with the politician, described in the epic Divine Comedy. Ugolino’s harrowing final words in the poem – ‘Then fasting got/The mastery of grief’ – imply that the prisoner’s hunger was so overpowering that he proceeded to eat the bodies of his own children. Reynolds depicts the point at which the prison door is closed and its captives are faced with the realisation of their grim but inevitable fate. Ugolino was a popular subject in British art and literature throughout the eighteenth century, of which Reynolds’s painting is probably the most important and influential example. It caused quite a stir when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 and went on to influence a number of paintings on similar themes in Britain and abroad.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Count Ugolino and his Children in the Dungeon by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), 1773. Historical scene from Dante's 'Divine Comedy' showing Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico (c.1220-1289) and his sons and grandchildren imprisoned in a dungeon. Ugolino is shown on the left, surrounded by his children and grandchilden, in various states of despair. A barred window can be seen in the background.

Full description

Ugolino de’Gherardeschi was a disreputable political figure of thirteenth-century Pisa. Entangled in the political rivalry between the Guelph and Ghibelline parties, Ugolino was ultimately betrayed by his supposed ally, the Archbishop Ruggieri, and imprisoned – together with two of his sons and two grandchildren – in a tower and left to die of starvation. The story of Ugolino’s incarceration was popularised by Dante’s fictionalised encounter with the politician, described in the Divine Comedy. In the Inferno, Dante witnesses the terrible sight of two spirits buried in ice, one of whom is gnawing on the skull of the other. The poet enquires as to what sins justify the penalty of eternal cannibalism, to which Ugolino – who had been devouring the head of the Archbishop – replies with his miserable tale. Ugolino’s harrowing final words – ‘Then fasting got/The mastery of grief’ – imply that the prisoner’s hunger was so overpowering that he proceeded to eat the bodies of his own children, who had previously offered themselves as food in response to their father’s despair. The painting was captioned with the following lined from Dante’s poem when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773: I did not weep, I turned to stone inside ; they wept, and my little Anselmuccio spoke : ‘What is it, father? Why do you look that way?’ For them I held my tears back, saying nothing, all of that day, and then all of that night. This excerpt connects the painting to the point at which the prison door is closed and its captives are faced with the realisation of their grim but inevitable fate. John Frederick Sackville, the 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799) was a close friend of Reynolds and the artist’s most influential patron of the 1770s. Of particular significance is the number of subject paintings he purchased, including Ugolino in 1775. Reynolds’s ledgers record a payment of four hundred guineas. It is alleged that, in response to a challenge over the high sum, the Duke retorted: ‘the picture affords me so much more pleasure than the money would, that I do not know how it could be better applied.’ In his biography of Reynolds, James Northcote (1746-1831), a pupil of the artist’s, suggests that Ugolino originated as a portrait study of George White, a well-known model of the time. According to Northcote, the painting was altered to become a historical picture ‘by accident’, almost immediately prior to its completion in 1773. Northcote writes that: "[…] the head of the Count had been painted previous to the year 1771 […] without any intention, on the part of Sir Joshua, or making it a subject of an historical composition, or having the story of Count Ugolino in his thoughts. Being exposed in the picture gallery […] it was seen, either by Mr. Edmund Burke, or Dr. Goldsmith, I am not certain which, who immediately exclaimed, that it struck him as being the precise person, countenance, and expression of the Count Ugolino, as described by Dante in his “Inferno”." However, Northcote’s account – specifically the assertion that the subject of Ugolino was an afterthought and not in the artist’s mind (nor his own idea) from the beginning – has been repeatedly called into question. Reynolds’s pocket-book contains references to a painting of ‘Hugolino’ as early as 1770. Ugolino was a popular subject in art and literature throughout the eighteenth century. Generally speaking, however, Dante’s reputation was at a low point in England at this time. The exhibition of Reynolds’s painting in 1773 has been acknowledged as a catalyst for the revival of Dante that occurred in the late eighteenth century. In fact, the picture assumed an important role in the development of late eighteenth-century art – not only in terms of the debate it generated about the genre of history painting, but also in the revival of Dante as a meaningful source for artists and the more general ‘Gothic’ theme of imprisonment. Following its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1773, Horace Walpole, remarked that the picture was ‘most admirable’. Other reviews were equally praising, although some were more critical of Reynolds’s venture into history painting, and advised the artist to ‘keep to your portraits’. On balance, however, Reynolds was happy with its reception – in a letter from July 1773, the painter expressed his delight that the painting ‘got me more credit than any I ever did before’. Ugolino was exhibited a further seven times in the nineteenth century, and also became well-known on the continent, particularly in France and Italy. Its fame in this sense was due to the publication of a mezzotint after the painting, engraved by John Dixon in 1774. Several French neo-classical paintings from the end of the eighteenth century demonstrate an awareness of Reynolds’s composition, such as Pierre-Narcisse Guerin’s 'Return of Marcus Sextus' and Jacques-Louis David’s 'The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons'. (Hayley Flynn, April 2014. Adapted from NT Apollo article, due to be published June 2014).

Makers and roles

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), artist

References

Yates 1951, Frances A. Yates, 'Transformations of Dante's Ugolino' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. XIV, no. 1/2, Januray- June 1951, p. 93 Penny (ed.), 1986: Reynolds, Royal Academy, 1986, cat. 82, p.251 Postle, 1995: Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds The Subject Pictures, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 138-155 Mannings 2000: David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings. The Subject Pictures catalogued by Martin Postle, New Haven & London 2000, cat. 2172, p.568 Bindman (ed.), 2007: David Bindman, Stephen Hebron and Michael O'Neill, Dante Rediscovered from Blake to Rodin, The Wordsworth Trust, 2007 , cat. 14, p.90 Flynn 2014, Hayley Flynn, " 'Why do you look that way?' " in National Trust Historic Houses & Colections Annual 2014, pp. 10-15

View more details