2021 is the year of Dante. 700 years from his death in 1321, the Somma Poeta is being celebrated by his hometown of Florence and indeed by all of Italy. The organisers consider Dante’s messages universal; the author and his works are being used this year to promote Italy in the rest of the world. Florence’s calendar of celebrations for seven centuries of Dante has recently been published (numerous additional events are still TBD), though a national calendar does not yet exist. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out about Dante 700.

Dante in the Duomo of Florence by Michelino

Why Dante?

But first, what’s the big deal? Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is considered the father of modern Italian language. Born a noble in Florence in a period of intense conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, he was prior (something like being mayor) in 1300. In a conflict, he sided with the “white Guelph” faction, ending up on the wrong side when the following year, the “black Guelphs” won and he, in Rome at the time in an ambassadorship role, was exiled. He lived out his life in various courts, finally settling and dying in Ravenna where he is buried (in Florence’s Santa Croce there is a monument to him, not his tomb).

Dante’s Divina Commedia was the first major work in the “vulgar” language (i.e. not in Latin) and this contributed to the diffusion of this Tuscan language that we came to know as “Italian”. But he wasn’t the only one writing in the vulgate, nor thinking about what this should sound like or what ideals it might encourage. He was part of a group of intellectuals rethinking love, language and poetry – the “dolce stil novo” – who sought out pleasant sounds and made syntax and rhythm more fluid; Dante then went his own way to develop a slightly different style and philosophy reflected in his early work, Vita Nuova, the love story about Beatrice.

Seven hundred years have gone past and people are still studying Dante’s greatest work. It had massive repercussions for subsequent cultural interpretations of heaven, hell and purgatory, which we see reflected very much in the visual arts, not just in the immediate contemporary period but through the 19th century and beyond. In trying to grasp what makes Dante great, my husband Tommaso, who, like most Italians, studied this stuff in school, said it’s like the Harry Potter books: they have a little something for everyone, and the books are increasingly more complex to read.

What would Dante do? How a 700-year-old poem keeps it relatable

 

Dante celebrations in Florence in 2021

Statue of Dante, piazza Santa Croce, Florence (photo credit: Pixabay)

The Florentine celebrations for Dante are extremely multi-disciplinary, ranging from academic conferences to exhibits, dance, and more.

The Accademia della Crusca is responsible for numerous events, and perhaps the most fun one is available online to all – the Dante word of the day. As always, the Crusca makes language fun, contemporary and relevant, using social media and their website to help us learn new/old words and sayings and understand their meanings. You can read the “parola di Dante fresca di giornata” in Italian on their website. The even nerdier version of this project is the multi-year research project “vocabulario dantesco” which can be consulted online at www.vocabolariodantesco.it.

 

 

The Museo di Casa di Dante in Florence unveiled a much-needed new multimedia display on June 24 of last year ahead of the celebrations (you can even take the museum’s virtual tour online), and is involved in assorted events such as a fashion show of Dante-inspired clothing and video mapping on the building’s façade during the summer months.

Other proposals for the Dante 700 celebrations are still to be defined, such as a potentially fascinating dance project (a choreography for professionals and citizens to be performed in piazza Santa Croce), or the musical series proposed by the Maggio Musicale (performing Dante-Symphonie by Franz Liszt and the word premiere Purgatorio by Tigran Mansurian). Of course, these events depend on the restrictions imposed by Coronavirus and will be organized in some permissible form at a later date.

Dante themed exhibitions

2020 closed with the interesting news that one part of the space of the ex Dominican monastery of Santa Maria Novella will house the new Italian Language Museum. Work is expected to start by the end of 2021, so we can’t expect instant gratification! When complete, the new cultural centre, which is to cost 4.5 million euros, will cover the long history of the Italian language, starting with the “Carta di Capua”, dating to 960, the earliest known document to contain the Italian vernacular, and focusing on Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Ariosto, Galilei, Machiavelli, Leopardi, Manzoni, D’Annunzio and Sciascia before extending to the modern day and the evolving use of Italian in the contemporary world. (Read more on The Florentine.)

In advance of the permanent exhibition and renovation work in this space, the Accademia della Crusca is set to organize an exhibition in the cloisters of Santa Maria Novella during 2021 with the title “Dante nel Cinquecento”. The show should give a taste of the museum to come.

Federico Zuccari, Dante at the gates of Hell, GDSU Florence

Meanwhile, 2021 kicks off with a virtual exhibition from the Uffizi of the illustrations that the late Mannerist artist Federico Zuccari created after Dante’s Divine Comedy. The 88 drawings were created between 1586 and 1588 while the artist was in Spain and are part of the Uffizi’s print and drawing room collection. Rather than being illustrations for a printed book, as one might surmise, Zuccari’s drawings were previously bound as a manuscript with the verses transcribed and enhanced by a commentary by the artist. Unlike other artists’ interpretations of Dante, this series was never published or reproduced; the artist kept it for himself until his death. See the “Hypervision” virtual exhibition “to Rebehold the Stars”.

From March 23 to July 25, 2021, the Bargello intends to hold the exhibition «Onorevole e antico cittadino di Firenze»: il Bargello per Dante. Manuscripts on loan from important Italian collections will dialogue with works of art from the Bargello to explore the relationship between Dante and his native city of Florence in the years after the poet’s death.

From March to September, a contemporary sculpture by Giuseppe Penone will be installed in piazza della Signoria courtesy of the Uffizi. Two trees, one in bronze and one in aluminium, inverted and interlaced, as a reference to Dante’s “albero che vive della cima” (Dante, Paradiso, 18: 28-30). Another work by the artist will be on display inside the museum’s galleries.

Dante MS in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, photo Sailko, Wikipedia

Florence’s three major libraries, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Biblioteca Riccardiana and Biblioteca Laurenziana, will be holding documentary exhibitions of manuscripts and primted works on three connected themes; dates to be defined based on covid restrictions.

At the end of the year, opening in December, is an exhibition developed in co-promotion between the museum of Palazzo Vecchio and various Swiss cultural and university institutes in Basel that will look at how Dante has influenced artists over seven centuries.

The places of Dante in Tuscany

In the Divina Commedia, Dante mentions numerous place names, all of which proudly will declare this fact on the brown informational signs at their entrance. The Maremma, Tuscany locations mentioned by Dante – Campagnatico, Gavorrano [see the story of the Salto della Contessa recalling Pia de’ Tolomei mentioned by Dante], Talamone, Sovana, Santa Fiora, Castell’Azzara – will be central to the celebrations in this part of Tuscany (of which I’m personally very fond, as you may know) organized by the association “La Maremma per Dante, Cultura per la vita” that will be offering school activities, conferences and guided visits. These places are just some of those cited in a recently published tome by Giulio Ferrone, L’Italia di Dante. Viaggio nel Paese della Commedia (only in Italian).

Contemporary Art

Cantica21 (www.cantica21.it) was an open call last year for proposals for contemporary artists wishing to create funded projects to be displayed in Cultural Centers and Museums around the world. Five winning projects on the theme of Dante will be sent to locations in Italy and help connect Dantesque messages to contemporary culture. In Pistoia, Marinella Senatore (an artist whose work is currently on display at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi) will create a resin sculpture and video installation called A salire a le stelle / To Climb To The Stars. Prato’s Pecci center will be the recipient of a spiral mountain of waste composed by Leone Contini with the title Monte Purgatorio.

. . .

Online learning about Dante

Many of the year’s Dante themed events will be necessarily held online, with the small consolation that this will make it possible to enjoy them from afar. Of course, academic conferences, lectures and many other events are held in Italian. There are some opportunities to learn about Dante in English this year however; two that take place this January, so what better way to kick start your cultural experiences for 2021?

Alexandra Lawrence’s Divine Dante course starts this week!

My friend and colleague Alexandra Lawrence, a licensed guide to Florence and big Dante fan, is leading a 6-part guided reading of Dante starting January 7, 2021. Alexandra has a wonderful way of telling stories that makes the past come alive and seem so relevant today, and her course fits perfectly into the Dante celebrations. The lecture series (with discussion time to follow) would be the ideal moment to finally read Dante. Learn more about her course “Divine Dante” here.

Context Conversations, the online arm of Context Travel, also offers some lectures on Dante. On January 14th, 2021, Dr. Kristin Stasiowski presents “Dante’s Enduring Influence in Popular Culture”. See this listing for future dates on Dante-related topics.

 

Further info

The official website www.700dantefirenze.it lists Florence’s celebrations for Dante 700.

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