Sign Adaptation – semantics of hell pictures (within the images of Shahrokhi's "Miraj Nameh" (ascension letter) & the works of the Dante's "Devine Comedy")

Document Type : Research Article



Dante’s “Divine Comedy” – a literary, moral, and mystic work, written in a symbolic language in Middle Ages – is the result of Dante’s journey in the world of supreme imagination and metaphysics and Miraj Nameh – a description of Prophet Muhammad’s Ascension to the heavens written in prose – are regarded as two examples of a spiritual journey into the afterworld. The creation of such works resulting from religious and ethnic beliefs in the two Western and Eastern cultures has always inspired the artists, poets, authors, and painters in different eras. In the West artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Delacroix have created outstanding works the main theme of which involves the images and the stories of “Divine Comedy”. One other eminent artist is Gustave Dore (1870 A.D.), the French illustrator and sculptor in French Romanticism era. Also in the East, a lot of literary works – written in both Persian and Arabic languages – describe the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad to the heavens. One literary masterpiece which thoroughly deals with the story of the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad as a religious and artistic endeavor, is the illustrated version of Shahrokhi’s “Miraj Nameh”(1436-1437 A.D.) – which is now kept in Paris National Library with the number 190.  Taking a passing look into such illustrated works as Shahrokhi’s “Miraj Nameh” and Gustave Dore’s illustrations to “Divine Comedy”, we can find that these pictures contain unique similarities, specifically in the part “The Inferno” (disregarding historical references – through mimesis – and intertextual references in the creation of the pictures).  The present article is an endeavor to comparatively examine these pictures from a sign–semiotic point of view. Through sign–semiotic (structural) analysis and fundamental semantic contrasts in similar visual systems, it tries to recognize and discover their common denotations and play a more active role in comprehending their profound meanings and concepts. Therefore, one of the most important goals of the present study is the knowledge and discovery of similar visual systems in the two mentioned works through the analysis of profound semiotic and fundamental structures (actually the main topic of semiotics is the hidden structural connections which produce meaning and can be used as a means to analyze and access to the primary meaning of the dialogue, the text, or the language).  So, based on sign-semiotics, each visual text is regarded as a distinct system which can exhibit the dichotomous contrasts representing such visual systems through their analysis into component parts and elements. These contrasts include culture versus nature, death versus life, above versus below, left against right, and so on.  Next, after finding these contrasts in the pictures, we comment about their values, concepts, meanings, and implications. This study lets us gain a better knowledge of the profound structures in similar visual systems as well as recognize the degree of coordination and connection of these systems. After contrast of pictures, we encounter remarkable examples of the two texts. For instance, the contrast of “The Penalty of Disobedience to God’s Orders” from Shahrokhi’s “Miraj Nameh” with a picture from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” entitled “The Fraudulent ones and Schismatics tortured” (The Inferno: Canto 28) and also “The Proud tortured by Serpents” from “Miraj Nameh” with “The Thieves tortured by Serpents” from “Divine Comedy”(The Inferno: Canto 24). These pictures – 1 contrasting 2 and 3 contrasting 4 – share common time and interactive signs despite having contrastive extremes with similar denotations which will be dealt with later.