Occupying the cave-like space in this painting are depictions of the “inner states” of cruelty and envy, impulses that Sveva condemned to hell in her reimagining of Dante’s Inferno. Cruelty is seen here as a gluttonous monster who feeds on the spirits of the powerless, while Envy, unable to enact its own damage and thus dependent on Cruelty, spits out venom and “ach[es] to see grief inflicted.”
Drawing from Christian teachings and her own philosophical perspective, Sveva developed a notion of hell and sin that was definitively her own. The “grave sins” in her speculation are violence, cruelty (including envy), indifference, lies, and betrayal.
Sveva’s pictorial notion of hell is void of supernatural punishments and is instead represented as a land of sinful humans turned monstrous and inflicting suffering upon the innocent. In this, it is more reflective of a living hell on earth that these sinful acts give rise to rather than being the traditional Christian hell wherein the sinful are punished after death.