2021: 700 years after the death of Dante Alighieri

In the city of Ravenna (Italy), between 13 and 14 September 1321, the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri died.

Dante Alighieri: Italian poet and scholar, author of the Divine Comedy, (originally called Comedìa and later christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio), is widely considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language.



Portrait of Dante (oil on canvas), Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi) (1444/5-1510) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images


Born in Florence in 1265, around 1280 he met the Florentine poets Guido Cavalcanti and Lapo Gianni, founders of the Dolce Stil Novo, and subsequently entered their circle.


Dante (1265-1321) presenting Giotto (1266-1337) to Guido da Polenta (d.1310) (oil on canvas), Mochi, Giovanni (1829-c.1892) / Casa di Dante, Florence, Italy / Photo © Nicolò Orsi Battaglini / Bridgeman Images


Between 1292 and 1294 he wrote the Vita Nova, an autobiographical story focused on the relationship between Dante and the "angel woman" Beatrice Portinari.


Six Tuscan Poets, 1544 (oil on panel), Vasari, Giorgio (1511-74) / Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN, USA / The William Hood Dunwoody Fund / Bridgeman Images


Very active in the political life of the time, Dante belonged to the white faction of the Guelphs, who despite being linked to the dogmas of the Catholic Church, do not accept the Pope's interference in the interests of the Florentine Republic.

In 1300 he assumed the important political office of Prior of the Arts in his beloved hometown.


Dante and Beatrice, from 'The World's Greatest Paintings' published by Oldham's Press in 1920 (colour litho), Holiday, Henry (1839-1927) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images


Shortly afterwards the Black Guelphs, a faction opposite and rival to that of Dante, conquered Florence thanks to the support of Pope Boniface VIII, the French forces and Charles of Valois. In 1302 Dante is exiled from Florence where he will never return.


Ms 2017 f.245 Dante's Inferno with a commentary by Guiniforte degli Bargigi (vellum) ca. 1440, Master of the Vitae Imperatorum (fl.1431-59) / Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France / Bridgeman Images


During this dark period, Dante wrote the famous Divine Comedy, managing with extreme ability to make tangible the chill of Inferno (Hell), the penances of Purgatorio (Purgatory), the lights and the stars of Paradiso (Heaven), and by describing to the world the events and the struggle of his present.


Paradiso, Canto 31: The saintly throng form a rose in the empyrean (rose celeste), illustration from 'The Divine Comedy' by Dante Alighieri, 1885 (digitally coloured engraving), Gustave Dore (1832-83) (after) / Private Collection / Photo © Costa / Bridgeman Images


Other important image selections:

Dante Alighieri and the British Library

The Divine Comedy illustrated by Gustave Doré

The Divine Comedy illustrated by Salvador Dalí

The Divine Comedy illustrated by William Blake

Back to top