'From a little spark may burst a flame'

November 12, 2016

One of my favourite Florentine sculptures - 'Monument to Dante' by Enrico Pazzi (1857-1865) - set upon the steps of the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce. In the glorious late Autumn sun his arresting profile and intense stare stop me in my tracks. Just what is this famous Medieval Italian poet, philosopher and scholar thinking?

 

The author of La Commedia (The Divine Comedy), considered a masterwork of world literature, Dante Alighieri was born Durante Alighieri in Florence in 1265. 

 

Dante was affected by the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict, a political division of loyalty between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs themselves divided into two factions: the White Guelphs, Dante’s party, who were wary of the Pope’s political influence; and the Black Guelphs, who remained loyal to Rome. After the Black Guelphs took power, Dante was condemned to perpetual exile from his beloved Florence.

 

During his exile he began to write La Commedia, and the famous poetic trilogy made an indelible impression on both literature and theology. 

 

Dante died in Ravenna on September 13, 1321 at the age of 56. Florence eventually came to regret Dante's exile, and the city made repeated requests for the return of his remains - which were refused by the custodians of the body in Ravenna. 

 

Eventually, a tomb was built for him in Florence in 1829, in the Basilica of Santa Croce. That tomb has been empty ever since, with Dante's body remaining in Ravenna, far from the city he loved. 

 

Today there are small plaques with quotes from his works to be found upon city walls dotted around the historical centre. This quote directly speaks to me of my growing passion and pursuit of Art in the Renaissance hub of the world.

 

Unlike the epic works that came before, The Divine Comedy was written in the vernacular Italian, instead of the more acceptable Latin or Greek. This allowed the work to be published to a much broader audience, contributing substantially to world literacy. 

 

Due to the monumental influence the work has had on countless artists, Dante is considered among the greatest writers to have lived. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third.”

 

Captured deep in thought, I can well believe there is a lot behind that intense expression.

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