This photographic artwork by Australian artist Fiona Hall belongs to a series titled ‘Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy’. It is held by The National Gallery of Australia and depicts a scene from canto XIII of Dante Alighieri’s ‘Inferno’, the first part of his famous medieval Italian poem The Divine Comedy. Written between 1308 and 1321, The Divine Comedy tells of Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory and paradise respectively, guided at first by the Roman poet Virgil and then by his ideal woman, Beatrice. In canto XIII, Dante and Virgil descend into the second ring of the seventh circle of hell, where people who committed suicide were cast. They come across a thorny, tangled forest of gnarled trees that bleed and cry in pain when they are broken. One of the trees, who identifies himself as Pier della Vigna, a prominent figure at the imperial court of Frederick II, explains to Dante that people like himself who committed suicide were sent by Minos to the wood where they would grow into trees, all the while being wounded by harpies (half woman/half-bird creatures) who would tear and feast on their leaves. They are then disturbed by the sight of two figures running frantically through the forest. The slower of the two, subsequently identified as Giacomo of Sant’ Andrea, takes refuge in a bush, only to be pounced upon by a number of black female mastiffs who ‘rent him piecemeal’.
For an English translation of ‘Inferno, canto XIII’, translated by the Rev. H. F. Cary, see: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto13.html