Last journey

Gérard Garouste – La barque de Phlégyas et ses gardiens

Gérard Garouste, La barque de Phlégyas et ses gardiens, 1988, patinated bronze, 54 x 25 x 14 cm (left), 40 x 173 x 15 cm (centre), 43 x 42,5 x 45 cm (right), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen, loan of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, photo: Carl Brunn

In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy Phlegyas is the ferryman who transports the deceased into the Hades in his bark, across the Styx, the river of the dead. Although this character is only briefly mentioned (VIII / 17-21), the crossing of the river is repeatedly addressed in the visual arts. 

Gérard Garouste completed his filigree bronze of the bark with two figurehead-like guardians, also mentioned by Dante: An angel as guardian of purgatory, who calls upon Dante to free himself from his sins before he is allowed to pass through a gate, and – on the threshold of paradise – the guardian Matelda, who is receiving Dante. The bark is emblematic of the last of all the journeys, the transition from life to death. Here the beginning of a path is depicted; it stands for a purification of the soul.