Interdisciplinary Connections seminar series (Autumn): Dante and the Visual Arts 2021

Posted by jcm22 at Sep 06, 2018 02:50 PM |
17 October 2018 - The session should be ideal for anyone interested in the way in which works of literature are translated into visual form, and will of course have particular appeal both for art historians and Italianists.
Interdisciplinary Connections seminar series (Autumn): Dante and the Visual Arts 2021

Michelino Dante And His Poem (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Date: Wednesday, 17 October 2018
Time: 12noon - 1pm
Location: Attenborough Second Floor LR 206

Contact: Professor David Ekserdjian.


Dante Alighieri died in 1321, which means that the seventh centenary of that event will be celebrated in 2021. It is my hope that I will be able to organise a major international exhibition on the theme of Dante and the Visual Arts, but were this to prove impossible, the subject could of course be treated in book form.

Dante’s Divine Comedy was illustrated almost from the outset, and there are two main reasons for this. The first and most obvious is that his writing is intensely visual, but the second is that it combines a gripping narrative of Dante’s travels through the realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise with the life stories of the people he encounters on his way. Typically, they recount the crucial episodes of their earthly journeys, and these too have proved irresistibly appealing to artists down the centuries.


Speaker: Professor David Ekserdjian

There are three main elements involved in any consideration of Dante and the Visual Arts.

The first is the illustration of his great poem, the Divine Comedy, across the centuries right up to the present and by no means just in Italy. Fully illustrated editions of the Comedy were already being produced in the form of illuminated manuscripts during the fourteenth century, and were subsequently executed by such major artists as Botticelli, William Blake, Gustave Doré, and Robert Rauschenberg. At the same time, certain particularly compelling episodes - of which those involving Paolo and Francesca and Count Ugolino are only the most memorable - inspired a host of stand-alone treatments.

The second is the illustration of Dante's life, which is both well documented and full of dramatic incident (Boccaccio wrote the first formal biography of him in the fourteenth century), and proved to be of particular interest to the Pre-Raphaelites.

The third is portraiture of Dante, who is unarguably the first individual since antiquity whose unforgettable appearance is known to posterity. In fact, the independent portrait did not really exist in his time, so all extant portraits are posthumous, but his death mask is preserved, and in essence corresponds to the acknowledged 'type' of Dante. In this context, once again the roll-call of artists - including Andrea del Castagno in the fifteenth century, and Raphael and Bronzino in the sixteenth, as well as many others later on - who either executed independent paintings and sculptures of Dante, or inserted his likeness into larger compositions, is both dauntingly vast and immensely distinguished.

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