Visualizing Dante

By Debra Holtz
Photography by Allyson Wiley '02

The powerful imagery of Dante's Divine Comedy is leaping off the page and onto the walls of Dante Hall, where artists are transforming the drab first-floor corridor with colorful murals of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Shawny Anderson, associate dean of the School of Liberal Arts, proposed the project in 2005 for a class which never came to be, but the idea resonated with the school's leaders.

"I always thought that the halls of the College should ‘sing' of the authors they honor," Anderson says.

The original inspiration came during Anderson's January Term class on "Street Art" when students touring San Francisco's Mission District were impressed with murals by the arts collective "Precita Eyes" and muralist Susan Cervantes.

With plans to renovate the 78-year-old Dante Hall during summer 2006, Anderson called Cervantes. A steering committee — Anthropology Professor Paola Sensi-Isolani, Brother Michael Meister, Carrie Brewster of the Hearst Art Gallery, Joe Kehoe of Buildings and Grounds, and Anderson — met with Cervantes and artist Ellen Silva as they developed renderings and, in late November, began painting the murals.

To accompany the murals, Anderson and students pored over Dante's texts for "quotes that we thought would speak to students, whether or not they knew Dante."

More than 100 faculty, staff, students and alumni voted for their favorites from the dozens circulated, and the committee chose those that best suited the images. The famous phrase "Abandon every hope, ye who enter here," inscribed on the Gate of Hell, will appear on the Inferno mural in its original Italian: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."