Still Life with Bust of Dante


William Michael Harnett (American, 1848–1892)




Oil on panel


10 5/16 x 13 13/16 inches


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James M. Dyer and Mr. and Mrs. Truman Bragg in memory of Mrs. Mary Newcomb Bull and Robert Scott Newcomb

Accession #


On View

On View - Stent Family Wing, Level 3, Gallery 304

In this jumble of old books and sheet music, William Michael Harnett illustrates moral and immoral behavior through careful literary juxtapositions. Most provocative is a pairing of Dante’s Divine Comedy, whose saintly Beatrice guides the search for salvation, with the scandalous Juliette, the Marquis de Sade’s lustful book about a young woman’s sexual improprieties. Such moralizing reflected an American preoccupation with social codes and conduct. Harnett animates the display with objects perched in unstable positions: the whole arrangement appears ready to collapse like a house of cards.

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