John DIXON after Sir Joshua Reynolds
31 x 26 inches
The painting depicts a memorable scene from Dante's Inferno, and hangs at Knole, the National Trust property in Kent.
Count Ugolino de Gherardeschi was a C13th Italian nobleman who formed an alliance with Archbishop Ruggieri and ruled Pisa in the 1280s. He was betrayed by Ruggieri and imprisoned in a tower with his two sons and two grandchildren. The key to the prison was hurled into the Arno leaving Ugolino and his family to starve to death. Dante subsequently adapted the story for inclusion in his Inferno where Ugolino is found in hell gnawing upon the head of Ruggieri. Dante describes the torment suffered by Ugolino and his family whilst in prison and the pivotal moment when he hears nails being driven into the door and realises that the tower is to become their tomb. It is this poignant scene that Reynolds recreates in his painting and is subsequently reproduced in mezzotint. Boydell published Dixon's engraving in 1774, the year that Reynolds sold the painting to the Duke of Dorset for £420. The international celebrity of this remarkable picture was achieved through Dixon's magnificent mezzotint and its distribution throughout Continental Europe.
John Dixon was born in Ireland in about 1740 and started his career as a silver engraver in Dublin. He moved to London in the mid 1760's and soon gained a reputation as a skilled engraver of portraits. He was lucky enough to marry a lady of fortune and thereafter his profession became an amusement rather than a necessity. He died in Kensington in about 1780. His work is distinguished by being very powerfully engraved and rich in tone. Also, because the copper is scraped so deeply, a large number of impressions could be taken from each plate