At the age of sixteen he moved to Paris with his mother, where he began his career in the studio of the Parisian painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. He was mainly active in France, a country where he became a citizen in 1850. He was a court painter during the reign of Louis Philippe of Orléans, a role he lost with the advent of the Second Republic (1848) and that he did not want to reacquire after the advent of the Second Empire of Napoleon III (1852).
He is buried in the cemetery of Montmartre. Paris has dedicated a street to him, near the Eiffel Tower, and Dordrecht, his hometown, a square with a commemorative statue in the middle.
There are two works by Ary Scheffer on themes of the Divine Comedy. The most famous, painted in several versions, is dedicated to Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, while the second one represents Dante and Beatrice. In both cases these are oils on canvas.
Ary Scheffer – Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil
We reproduce below the original version of this work, which was painted for the Duke of Orléans in 1835 and is kept at the Wallace Collection in London (170 x 230 cm).
Click here for the 1854 version kept at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg and click here for the 1855 version kept at the Louvre in Paris.
Ary Scheffer – Dante and Beatrice
The work, reproduced below, was painted in 1851 and is kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (100 x 180 cm).
In this painting the author represents what Dante tells in Canto I of Paradiso (verses 61-66), when he is about to begin his visit to the kingdom of heaven led by Beatrice. The sunlight is as bright as ever, as if another sun had been added to the sun:
«E di subito parve giorno a giorno
essere aggiunto, come quei che puote
avesse il ciel d’un altro sole adorno».
And here is Beatrice, who looks up at that sun, keeping her eyes fixed on the “celestial wheels”, while Dante fixes his gaze on her, distracting it from the sky:
«Beatrice tutta ne l’etterne rote
fissa con li occhi stava: ed io in lei
le luci fissi, di là su remote».
The painting housed in the Boston museum is surrounded by a frame probably dating back to the early twentieth century, on which these six verses are transcribed in English in the prose translation by Philip Henry Wicksteed, published in London, The Temple Classics, in 1899: