The Divine Comedy – Alinari

The Divine Comedy, Newly Illustrated by Italian Artists

On January 17th, 2020 The Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic, as proposed by the Ministro per i beni e le attività culturali e per il turismo (Ministry for Cultural Heritage, Activities, and Tourism), instituted the national day dedicated to Dante Alighieri commonly referred to as “Dantedì.” Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is considered the father of the modern Italian language and one of the most important authors of all time. The day that Italy chose for celebrating him is March 25th, because it corresponds to the day in which the poet symbolically began the journey to the afterlife recounted in the Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy). The poem has been a source of inspiration for many artists and illustrators such as William Blake and Gustave Dorè. It is rich with astronomical references, used together with astrological indications, as points of reference in his symbolic path from sin, Inferno (Hell), to salvation, Paradiso (Paradise). The importance that Dante attributed to astronomy is testified in another of his works, the Convivio (Banquet): “And [astronomy], more than the aforementioned [sciences], is noble and high because of its noble subject, which is the movement of the heaven” (Convivio, II, 13). Dante probably would have been familiar with the Liber de Aggregationibus Scientiae Stellarum et Principiis Coelestium Motuum (Book of Scientific Aggregation of Stars and Principles of Celestial Motion) of the Arab scientist Afragano, who lived in the 9th century, the Almanack of Jacob ben Machir ben Tibbon (1234 ca.-1304 ca.) and the so-called Tavole di Toledo (Tables of Toledo), compiled by a group of astronomers around 1080 to predict the movements of the sun and the planets in relation to the fixed stars. The comparison between these texts and some verses of the poem, taking into account that the Ptolemaic system was in effect in that age and that the Florentine New Year was celebrated on March 25th, has allowed some scholars to identify this date as the beginning of the story. In the Library of the Istituto centrale per la grafica in Rome an example of the Divina Commedia nuovamente illustrata da artisti italiani (The Divine Comedy Newly Illustrated by Italian Artists) is conserved, curated by Vittorio Alinari and published in Florence from 1902. Vittorio Alinari (1859-1932) transformed the company founded by his father Leopoldo into a true and proper photographic industry, continuing the documentational activity of the national artistic heritage of Europe and incentivizing the relationship between painting and photography. His various artistic and literary interests formed the basis for the competition that he declared in May of 1900 inviting Italian artists to newly illustrate the Divina Commedia. The first prize was awarded to Alberto Zardo, the second to Armando Spadini and the third a tie between Duilio Cambellotti and Ernesto Bellandi. Among the other artists that collaborated were Plinio Nomellini, Giovanni Fattori, Adofo De Carolis. The realized drawings were reproduced with collotype technique to be published in the volume and are a testimony to the Italian artistic panorama of that time and of the influence that Dante’s poem had on the 19th century.

Traduzione in inglese di Margaret Dosh

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