Visual Representations of The Divine Comedy

(veja em Português)

What is to be visually represented?

First take a look at Por que Comedia? Specially in the meanings. Wrapping up:

Dante’s idea on his subject comes to us in a letter he sent to his most revered benefactor, Cangrande della Scala, when he was in exile. There is an English version of this letter that can be seen at:

As Dr. Johansen Quijano explains, this letter boils down to the frames:

Literal – “This is that sense which does not go beyond the strict limits of the letter” (What it is)

Allegorical – “This is disguised under the cloak of such stories, and is truth hidden under a beautiful fiction.” (What the text means, cultural context)

Moral – “This sense is that for which teachers ought as they go through writings intently to watch for their own profit and that of their hearers.” (What we can get out of it)

Anagogical – “This occurs when a writing is spiritually expounded which even in the literal sense by the things signified likewise gives intimation of higher matters belonging to the eternal glory.” (What we can get in a spiritual sense)

From it’s inception, there were at least two main circumstances which an artist would represent visually Dante’s works: Either he was commissioned to do so, or his art would be inspired or recall visually Dante’s masterpiece.

Artists Inspired on Dante

Commissioned Artists (on a tentative time line)

Yates Thompson 36

The British Library’s Yates Thompson 36 is one of the finest Italian illuminated manuscripts of the Comedy The codex was produced in Siena during the middle of the 15th century ( 1444 – 1450). While there are no details concerning who commissioned this work, the codex belonged to Alfonso V, king of Aragon, Naples, and Sicily. The codex includes 110 large miniatures and three historiated initials. Consisting of rectangular miniatures, each illumination is surrounded by an ornamental border which varies in design. Priamo della Quercia executed the illuminations for the Inferno and Purgatorio and all three historiated initials, Giovanni di Paolo those for Paradiso. This makes for two distinctly different styles: Priamo’s work reflects the more realistic style of late fifteenth-century Florentine painting, an influence which is particularly noticeable in his use of contours and outlines in the depiction of nudes. Giovanni di Paolo’s style is closer to that of late fourteenth-century Sienese artists. His illustrations of the Paradiso are greatly admired for their visual interpretation of the poem: the artist doesn’t just transcribe Dante’s words but seeks to render their meaning. Reproduced below are 66 of the codex’s 115 illuminations.

Vellutello, Alessandro (commissioner)

Alessandro Vellutello was a Lucchese intellectual active in Venice from about 1515. In 1544 he published his commentary, La Comedia di Dante Alighieri con la nova esposizione with the printer Francesco Marcolini. Antonfrancesco Doni notes in his 1550 Libraria, Vellutello “strained his mind, expenses and expended considerable time” in having the 87 illustrations engraved. Possibly executed by Giovanni Britto, who worked as an engraver for Marcolini, these illustrations are the most distinctive Renaissance renditions of the poem after Botticelli’s. Each scene records one or more scenes from the cantos illustrated. For the Inferno, the illustrator uses a striking a circular design and aerial-like perspective. Unlike the majority of illustrations which accompany sixteenth-century printed editions of the Commedia, these depictions are closely related to Vellutello’s glosses. The illustrations seek to render the narrative accurately, much as Vellutello’s exposition seeks to do.

Sandro Botticelli (1444/45 – 1510)

Illuminating Boticelli’s Chart of Hell

Botticelli’s Chart of Hell (c.1485–c.1500) has long been lauded as one of the most compelling visual representations of Dante’s Inferno.
The chart is one of ninety illustrations which the artist (1445–1510) executed for a lavish codex of the Commedia commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, the cousin and ward of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Botticelli likely began work on the Dante illustrations in the mid-1480s and finished them in the mid-1490s. Executed during a period of considerable interest in infernal cartography, Botticelli’s Chart of Hell furnishes a panoptic display of the descent made by Dante and Virgil through the “abysmal valley of pain”

It can be seen at  Botticelli’s Chart of Hell

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