Modern artists such as Salvador Dalí have traced the footsteps of Virgil and Beatrice through “Inferno” and “Purgatorio” to “Paradiso”, although Robert Rauschenberg, never big on redemption, skipped the last two and stayed in the first.
If the “Inferno” hadn’t existed, then Rauschenberg (1925-2008) would have been the man to invent it. For anyone born post-1900, Dante’s Hell, Purgatory and Heaven bear a notable resemblance to the id, ego and super-ego of the tripartite Freudian mind. The young Rauschenberg, taught painting at Black Mountain College by the strict Bauhaus abstractionist Josef Albers, came to see Modernist art as a variant of his Texan parents’ fundamental Christianity. In the late 1950s, he would set about redefining it in his own, flawed image.
As a closeted gay man in that homophobic decade – married and quickly divorced, he had affairs with Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns – Rauschenberg knew that sexual love and damnation