Two Dante Shows in Florence: Duomo & Bargello


Michelino’s work depicting Dante Alighieri in the Florence Cathedral (Duomo)

The celebration of Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s 700th anniversary of his death continues with an installation of painter Domenico di Michelino’s 1465 canvas showing Dante and his famous work The Divine Comedy. The exhibition, “Dante e la luce della Commedia in Santa Maria del Fiore,” is curated by Antonio Natali, former director of the Uffizi Gallery, and will be on display from May 14 until December 31, 2021. 

Natali is part of the Community of San Leolino, a collaborative program between three of Florence’s most famous institutions: l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, l’Opera di Santa Croce, and the Certosa monastery near Galluzzo, a suburb of Florence. The group works to honor Dante’s contributions to the Italian language. Don Alssandro Andreini is also part of this group and is the vice president of l’Opera di Santa Croce. He explains that this year’s centenary carries particular meaning as faith is not only one of the most important themes in Dante’s Comedy, but also a feeling Italians have clung onto throughout the pandemic. 

Michelino’s painting is considered the best known portrait of Dante and has thus been requested by various institutions.  It would be, however, unacceptable if Michelino’s portrait of Dante, commissioned by l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and exhibited in the  Dante’s home city, was loaned elsewhere.  The painting, in fact, has not left the Cathedral of Florence since 1465, when it was commissioned in celebration of 200 years since Dante’s birth in 1265. 

The portrait depicts Dante wearing a laurel wreath and holding The Divine Comedy; one can observe the opening lines of the first canto. To the left is the Gate of Hell and to right stands Florence and Brunelleschi’s dome, which was not complete at the time of the painting. The Palazzo Vecchio, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Towers of Bargello and the Church of Badia Fiorentina are also visible. Behind Dante is his interpretations of Purgatory and Paradise. Dante’s pensive stare is in the direction of a 15th century Florence, his left hand gesturing towards the Gate of Hell, and his book open for the viewer to read. 

In addition to the exhibition, the Community of San Leolino has organized a variety of lectures, readings, and events. Cardinale Gianfranco Ravasi will give a lesson on May 28 in the Basilica di Sante Croce on Dante’s theology. Franco Ricordo will also be presenting on June 10, 17, and 24 at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Poets will read Dante’s Poetry in all three locations of Santa Croce, the Duomo, and Certsa beginning June 2021 until March 2022. There will also be a show by the Lombardi-Tiezzi Company on July 5 and 11. On October 2, there will be a special celebration of Dante and Francesco in Santa Croce, titled “The Day of Fraternity.”

Dante will return home for his 700th anniversary, a hallmark celebration the municipality needs after months of isolation. For more information on the show and ticket prices, please visit the website.

A concurrent exhibition at the Bargello, “Honorable and Ancient Citizen of Florence:  The Bargello for Dante,” features manuscripts and art and is dedicated to the reconstruction of the relationship between Dante and Florence from the years following his death in 1321 until the mid-14th century.  Formerly a prison, the museum now houses some of the greatest sculptures from the Renaissance.  Inside the Chapel of the Podesta, hangs Giotto’s portrait of Dante, thought to be the oldest portrait of him, wearing a red robe and holding the Divine Comedy in his hand.  The artist, a contemporary of Dante’s, portrays the poet in the ranks of the Blessed and therefore in Paradise.  The chapel was where prisoners condemned to death spent their last night in prayer and coincidentally where Dante’s exile was proclaimed in 1302.  (rita kungel)