Paolo and Francesca

George Frederick Watts, 1817 - 1904

Paolo and Francesca

George Frederick Watts 1817 - 1904


Scene from Dante's Inferno depicting Paolo and Francesca. Semi-naked Francesca, to the left, reclines in the arms of Paolo, to the right, who holds her in a protective embrace. He is naked but for grey robes swathed about his legs and over his head and shoulders. She rests her head on his right shoulder and they hold hands. They appear to be caught in a strong wind, which blows the drapery and her long blond hair around them. The background is dark and rust-coloured, with heavy grey clouds. Two small figures in drapery appear suspended in the bottom right corner, the larger of which is the figure of Dante. He is in profile to the right, sobbing with his head in his hands. The other small figure, presumably Virgil, is drifting off, facing away from the viewer. A Watts-style frame of gilt wood with raised floral moulding at the inner and outer edges.

Display Label

Gallery text panel In Pursuit of Beauty Late Victorian Art and Design Improving the quality of British art and design had been a concern since the 1850s. The British Empire had expanded into new continents but it was the classical ideal of beauty, based on Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was still considered the model for serious art. The pursuit of beauty was a form of escapism from the mass-production of industrial Britain. As well as looking to the ancient world, artists and designers were delighted and inspired by the arts of Renaissance Italy, the Middle and Far East. Many of the paintings here feature a beautiful woman. Sometimes she is a passive, decorative form, but often she is a dark and brooding femme fatale, a symbol of seduction, deception and destruction. The 'fatal woman' may reflect late Victorian male fears as women campaigned for equal rights and new roles. The emphasis on colour, harmony and rhythm and simplifying the form of an object would become major concerns in the 20th century. They can be seen emerging here in the work of late Victorian artists and designers.

Object Name

Paolo and Francesca

Creators Name

George Frederick Watts

Date Created



Canvas: 66.1cm x 52.5cm
Frame: 97.2cm x 84.8cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


© Manchester Art Gallery

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