Between 1976 and 1989, the production of British visual artist Tom Phillips (b. 1937) found its main source of inspiration in Dante and particularly in his Inferno. This article aims to provide a new approach to the question that drives, directly or indirectly, most of the scholarship on Phillips’s reception of Dante: how can we best describe the relation between the text of the Comedy and the images by Phillips that accompany it? Rather than relying on notions such as “adaptation” and “illustration”—which might prove inadequate to account for the text-image relations in Phillips’s works—I would propose to interpret Phillips’s reception of Dante as an attempt to create “a world to see the Comedy by.” More specifically, the analyses that follow will have four objectives. First, I will provide an overview of the transmediation strategies deployed by Phillips across his Dante-related projects. Second, I will attempt to explain the system of relations that shapes Phillips’s Dante-inspired visual world and to show, more in general, how this world ‘works’ by drawing on Georges Poulet’s phenomenology of reading and Stanley Fish’s reader-response theory. Third, I will argue that Dante’s Inferno should not be seen as an illustrated book but rather as a livre d’artiste in which Phillips transmediates his aesthetic experience of the Inferno into a visual world whose unique iconography needs, in turn, to be explained to the reader-viewer in the form of a commentary. Fourth, I will show how Phillips’s Dantesque visual world and, more in general, Phillips’s very identity as an artist depend on his identification with Dante himself—or, rather, on his ‘absorption’ of certain traits of Dante’s otherworldly journey into the conceptualization of his own life journey
"A World to See the Comedy by: Tom Phillips's Transmediations of Dante,"
Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies: Vol. 5, Article 4.
Available at: https://repository.upenn.edu/bibdant/vol5/iss1/4