Sunday, September 4, 2011

Love and Poetry by Dante Alighieri

'Dante and Beatrice' Henry Holiday 1883, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Love and Poetry by Dante Alighieri 

'Guido, I wish that you and Lapo and I,
Spirited on the wings of a magic spell,
Could drift in a ship where every rising swell
Would sweep us at our will across the skies;
Then tempest never, or any weather dire    5
Could ever make our blissful living cease; 
No, but abiding in a steady, blessed peace
Together we'd share the increase of desire.

And Lady Vanna and Lady Lagia then
And she who looms above the thirty best     10
Would join us at the good enchanter's behest;
And there we'd talk of Love without an end
To make those ladies happy in the sky - 
With Lapo enchanted too, and you and I.'

Dante is writing of Guido Cavalcanti and Lapo Gianni who were poets in his literary circle; Lady Vanna and Lady Lagia who were the ladies to Guido and Lapo; Beatrice who is referred to in the poem in line 10 as the 'she' who looms above the 30 best is Beatrice, Dante's immortal and eternal love (the 30 best are the 30 Dante named as the most beautiful women of the whole of Florence); and of the enchanter as in Merlin himself.  In the painting it is key to realize that the moment in time is when Beatrice was alive in Florence because it is later after she is dead that he immortalizes her in his Divine Comedy as Eternal Love which is why, in my opinion, he has capitalized love as a proper noun in line 12.  

What may be unknown to the viewer of the painting is that this is portraying a moment when Beatrice decided not to pay Dante 'salutation' and destroyed him, breaking his heart. Dante himself refereed to Beatrice as 'La gloriosa donna della mia mente' or 'the glorious lady of my mind' ~ he wanted a relationship with her so he had one in his mind.  It will be Beatrice who is the inspiration in his Divine Comedy and whom he speaks with as if they are completely friendly; however they never had any relationship.  Beatrice is in the center as the main character holding a distant and deliberate stare away from Dante while Lady Vanna in red leans behind Beatrice to stare at Dante echoing his hand on his hip with hers.  This physical echoing of body stance connects the two figures in an implied line and an almost implied mirror image of each other reflecting opposites.  She protecting her friend closely and he wanting to be close to Beatrice.  Vanna and Dante even echo their posturing down to their feet.  The red from the garments, the shoes, and the hat continues the implied lines  moving the viewers eyes actively around the canvas continually surveying the canvas.  The young girl in blue is Beatrice's maid balancing out the composition yet having little interaction other than eye contact with Dante.  This painting is according to recounting from Dante about a day on the Arno in Florence.  The Arno and Florence are still as beautiful now and perhaps more so. 

Firenze, Italy, May 2011

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