“Dante and Beatrice” by Henry Holiday

“Dante and Beatrice” by Henry Holiday depicts an incident in which, due to a misunderstanding, Beatrice refused to acknowledge Dante when they met by chance in the street. In this painting, Beatrice, in the center of the group of three women, looks away from Dante. The event is shown as Beatrice, and two other women walk past the Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence. Beatrice wears a white dress and walks beside her extrovert friend Monna Vanna, and Beatrice’s maidservant is just slightly behind. Dante’s autobiographical work, “La Vita Nuova” describes his love for “Beatrice,” however, Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. Did Beatrice refuse to speak to him because she had heard rumours about his interest in another woman?

According to Dante, he first met Beatrice when his father took him to the Portinari house for a May Day party. They were both nine years old at the time. Dante was instantly taken with her and remained so throughout his life even though she married another man, in 1287. Dante married first in 1285. Despite this, he maintained a deep love and respect for Beatrice, even after her death in 1290. After Beatrice’s death, Dante withdrew into intense study and began composing poems dedicated to her memory. The collection of these poems, along with others he had previously written in his journal on his “courtly love” for Beatrice, became “La Vita Nuova.”

The artist, Holiday, was obsessed with historical accuracy, so in 1881, he traveled to Florence to research this painting. He discovered that in the 13th century, the Lungarno, the street on the north side of the River Arno between the Ponte Vecchio, seen in the background, and the Ponte Santa Trinita, was paved with bricks and that there were shops in the area. Holiday added all this detail into this painting. Including the fact that Ponte Vecchio had been damaged in flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290, and in this painting, it is shown with scaffolding. 

Who were Dante and Beatrice ??

Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was an Italian poet during the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is considered the most famous poem of the Middle Ages and the most significant literary work in the Italian language.Dante was instrumental in establishing the literature of Italy, and his depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven inspired the larger body of Western art. Also, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme is attributed to him. In Italy, he is often referred to as “the Supreme Poet.”

Beatrice “Bice” di Folco Portinari (1265 – 1290) was an Italian woman who has been commonly identified as the main inspiration for Dante’s Vita Nuova and is also widely identified with the Beatrice who appears as one of his guides in the Divine Comedy. There she takes over as guide from the Latin poet Virgil because, as a pagan, Virgil cannot enter Paradise and because, being the incarnation of heavenly love, as her name implies, it is Beatrice who leads into the beatific vision.

Dante claims to have met a “Beatrice” only twice, on occasions separated by nine years but was so affected by the meetings that he carried his love for her throughout his life.

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