You'll see him soon, this young man with the Dante-like face […]. He's quite distinguished in appearance, and he'll become so in his paintings […]. Ah well, thanks to him – at last I have a first sketch of that painting I've been dreaming about for a long time – the poet. He posed for it for me. His fine head, with its green gaze, stands out in my portrait against a starry, deep ultramarine sky; his clothing is a little yellow jacket, a collar of unbleached linen, a multicoloured tie. He gave me two sittings in one day.– Vincent to Theo, from Arles, 3 September 1888 (Letter 673)
With this, Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853–90) described his painting, Portrait of Eugène Boch (Plate I), as the expression of his ideal Artist/Poet: “this young man with the Dante-like face.” Central to his plans for the community of painters he wished to found at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888, the Dante-like Artist/Poet was to be joined, in Vincent's utopian vision for his “Studio of the South,” by modern-day equivalents of Dante's compatriots Petrarch and Boccaccio, hence completing the triumvirate commonly known then, as now, as the Tre Corone.
Perhaps the most prolific period of his life as an artist, source of many of his best-known works, site of his ill-fated collaboration with Paul Gauguin and infamous episode of self-mutilation, Vincent's Studio of the South has been the subject of several studies and exhibitions. And while the Portrait of Eugène Boch and other paintings originating from Vincent's Studio of the South endeavor – including The Bedroom and the Poet's Garden series – have been analyzed extensively in art historical literature, their relationship, and that of the utopian artists’ community they embodied, to Vincent's conception of Dante and the Tre Corone have not been explored within the context of the layered meanings brought by their historical origins and their larger nineteenth-century reception.