When Dali Met Dante

My sister and I spent a few, hot August days in Florence, recently.  After our first stop at Basilica San Lorenzo, we made our way over to Palazzo Medici Riccardi for #DaliMeetsDante, an exhibition of Salvador Dali's illustrations of Dante's, Divine Comedy.  Phew, there's a lot in that last sentence to cover... Here we go!

The Palazzo Medici Riccardi was a Renaisance palace designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici.  Built from 1444 to 1484, this was the home of the Medici family and was the first Rennaisance building built in Florence.  Unfortunately, we didn't tour the inside of this great palace - we didn't know there were treasures hidden inside!  Definitely for next time.


Many historically interesting things happened here in this palace... one such tidbit, a young fourteen year old Michelangelo lived here under the sponsorship of Lorenzo de Medici.  Michelangelo lived here until Lorenzo died in 1492 and the Medici family fell from power. 

But, I digress.

Another very important figure in Florentine history was Dante Alghieri.  I had heard the name but not the life story of Dante in Florence.  So, who was Dante?

Dante by Sandro Botticelli

Born in 1265 in Florence, Dante was the most well known poet from the Middle Ages.  Often called the "Father of Italian Language", Dante had a gift for words and strong political and spiritual passions.  He coined the dolce stil nuovo (the sweet new style) of Italian poetry that celebrates a spiritualized and idealized view of love and womanhood in a prose that is 'sincere, delicate, and musical'.

According to Wiki, Dante and his family were loyal to a group backed by the papacy called the Guelphs.  This group had continuous opposition with the Ghibellines, who were backed by the Holy Roman Emporer.  Long story short, after years of opposition and fighting, the Guelphs triumphed but then, they themselves split into two factions - the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs.

The Black Guelphs supported the Pope and the White Guelphs wanted more freedom from Rome.  Dante was on the side of the White Guelphs.  And, initially the White Guelphs were in power, but then overthrown by the Black Guelphs and, in 1302, Dante was exiled and ordered to pay a fine.   Failure to pay the fine would result in death by burning.  Years would go by, and Dante would still be unable to return to Florence.  In 1315, amnesty would be given to those in exile if they performed a public penance, which Dante refused.  For his refusal, the ruling military officer of Florence at that time, Uguccione della Faggiuola, reinstated Dante's death sentence, thereby, making it clear that Dante would never return home.

While in exile, Dante's philosophy and literary interest deepened.  It was during this time that he wrote the Divine Comedy.  He travelled Italy for years, never returning home. In 1321, Dante died in Ravenna, Italy after returning from Venice on a diplomatic mission and possibly from having contracted Malaria.  Dante's body remains in Ravenna in Church of San Pier Maggiore (later called San Francesco).   Inside of the church, Dante's body lies submerged underwater as the crypt is below sea level while goldfish swim peacefully above him.

Dante's Death Tomb at the Church of San Pier Maggiore in Ravenna, Italy 

Bernardo Bembo, praetor of Venice, erected a tomb for him in 1483.  The city of Florence came to regret Dante's exile and requested his body be returned home.   The custodians of the body refused.  Nonetheless, in 1829, a tomb was built for Dante in the Basilica of Santa Croce.  In 2008, Florence rescinded Dante's death sentence, nearly seven centuries after his death.

Dante's Memorial in Basilica Santa Croce

Deemed one of the greatest works of world literature, Dante's Divine Comedy, is an epic poem of the imaginative depiction of the afterlife, representative of the medieval world view that developed at this time.  It also helped establish the Tuscan dialect as the standard of Italian language.  

Divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, this work describes Dante's journey through the three areas while also describing allegorically the soul's journey towards God.

Salvador Dali (1960's)

In the I950's, the Italian government wanted to commemorate Dante's 700th birthday with a commission to Salvador Dali to illustrate Dante's most important work.  For nine years, Dali worked to bring a visual life to the words of Dante.  Unfortunately, the Italian people did not appreciate this effort and could not understand why an Italian painter was not chosen for this project.  The Italian government ultimately dropped the project.

The exhibition showcased all of the one hundred illustrations created by Dali for the Divine Comedy.  They were quite lovely to see.  Here are a few:

The Tree of Punishment

Cacciaguida Sees
Dante's Exile in God

Towards the Tree of Law

Dante Purified


Luckily, Dali and a French publisher continued on with the project.  Lockport Street Gallery has the collection of images here. And, here is a lovely blog that puts the words with the imagery.  I've never read the Divine Comedy... but it's going onto my Must Read List!



  1. Awesome. I loved Florence. So much happened there it's just mind boggling how a little city like that sparked so much of Western culture today. Glad you guys had a great trip!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts