In July, I spotlighted seven artists who illustrated The Divine Comedy, and in September, I spotlighted nine artists who did scenes from the poem. Now let’s look at some of the artists who created works of Dante and Beatrice outside of the poem.
The Salutation of Beatrice (1859), by Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti, has long been one of my favorites. I’ve used it as a desktop picture and blog banner several times in the past. It perfectly captures the longing and gnawing at the heart of unrequited love, being so close to someone you adore so much yet unable to express your true feelings.
Mr. Rossetti was born Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, but began using his final middle name as his first name in honor of the Supreme Poet. Throughout his artistic career, he painted many Dantean artworks.
I absolutely adore this painting. Entitled Incipit Vita Nova (The New Life Begins), it’s by Cesare Sacaggi and shows Dante and Beatrice as children. He painted it in 1903, in Pre-Raphaelite style, though he belonged to the school of Tortona (i.e., a generation of artists working in Tortona in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).
Dante’s First Meeting with Beatrice was painted by Pre-Raphaelite Simeon Solomon sometime between 1859–63. Surprisingly, I haven’t found many paintings or drawings of this famous meeting of May Day 1274.
Pre-Raphaelite Marie Spartali Stillman did another painting of that meeting in 1887, The May Feast at the House of Folco Portinari, 1274. For awhile, I was confused and thought that meeting took place in 1275, because Dante seems to say he was nine years old, very close to his tenth birthday. But you have to read the opening line of Chapter II of La Vita Nuova more carefully.
“Nine times already since my birth the heaven of light had circled back to almost the same point” means, in the heliocentric understanding of the Universe, that the Sun had made almost nine full circles around the Earth since his birth. From late May 1265 to May Day 1274 was just shy of nine such revolutions. Thus, Dante was actually eight and about to turn nine.
Salvatore Postiglione did this artwork, entitled simply Dante and Beatrice, either sometime in the second late 19th century or very early 20th. In so many paintings of Dante, he’s depicted holding a book and dressed in red.
Mr. Postiglione belonged to the Realist school of art.
Frederick Richard Pickersgill also entitled this artwork Dante and Beatrice. There isn’t a date I could find for this one either, but we know it was done sometime during the 19th century. Many of his works depicted scenes from history, literature, and religion.
Raffaele Giannetti painted Dante and Beatrice in the Garden of Boboli in 1877. This is one of a series of Dantean paintings he did in a Pre-Raphaelite style.
Here’s another Rossetti painting, from 1856 (reproduced in much larger scale in 1871), Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice. The green clothes of the ladies symbolize hope; the flowers on the floor symbolize purity; and the red doves symbolize love. This is Rossetti’s largest artwork.
Rossetti also painted this, The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice, in 1853. It depicts the events of Chapter XXXIV of La Vita Nuova, when Dante is interrupted from drawing angels by an unexpected visit.
And yet another Rossetti painting! This was done in 1852, and is entitled Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante. His initials and the date can be seen a bit left of center. It was meant to be part of a triptych, with the other panels depicting Dante as a Florentine magistrate, sending his former best friend Guido de’ Cavalcanti into exile, and at the court of Can Grande della Scala.
Giuseppe Bertini, part of the Verismo (Italian Realism) school, painted The Meeting of Dante and the Ilario Monks between 1844–45. It’s set in an Augustinian convent.
The famous Renaissance artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari painted Italian Humanists in 1544, depicting Dante and six other leading figures of the late Middle Ages. The others are Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, Cino da Pistoia, Guido Cavalcanti, and Guittone d’Arezzo.
Scottish artist Sir Joseph Noel Paton painted Dante Meditating the Episode of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in 1852. Though he declined an invitation to join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Sir Paton nevertheless painted in that style.
Pre-Raphaelite Henry Holiday painted the simply-titled Dante and Beatrice between 1882–84, and travelled to Florence so he could see the Ponte Vecchio, the stone streets, and other real-life landmarks that existed in the Middle Ages firsthand. He also created clay models of some of the buildings.
Like Rossetti’s Salutation of Beatrice, this painting too perfectly captures the longing look of unrequited love, feeling a gnawing at your heart from being so close to someone you have such intense feelings for but unable to do anything about it.
Antonio Cotti, Dante in Verona, 1879.
Dante (He Hath Seen Hell), Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1864. Both this and the above painting are based on the belief Dante’s contemporaries had, that he’d truly visited Hell.
Annibale Gatti did several versions of Dante in Exile, in 1850, 1854, and 1858. His oeuvre was historical works.
Though a popular image of Dante with a hatchet face and aquiline nose persists, the Pre-Raphaelites gave him a more human, even romantic look. Modern forensic reconstruction bears out this warm, human appearance of an everyday fellow, even if he might not have been classically handsome.