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Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Dante and Beatrice” by Henry Holiday

"Dante and Beatrice" by Henry Holiday

“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 centre 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. In spite of 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 travelled 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 a flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290 and in this painting, it is shown with scaffolding.

When Holiday died in 1927, he was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite”. Many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings, including Dante’s Dream, had as their subject the Italian poet Dante, and his friend’s interest in Dante is the likely inspiration for Holiday’s painting.

Dante

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

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.

Henry Holiday

Henry Holiday (1839 – 1927) was an English historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.

Through his friendships, he was introduced to the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This movement was to be pivotal in his future artistic and political life.

Holiday had been a socialist throughout his life and, together with his wife and daughter, supported the Suffragette movement. The family were close acquaintances of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter and had organised local suffragette meetings in the Lake District.

Pre-Raphaelites

The Pre-Raphaelites was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848. The group intended to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by the artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite”. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Pre-Raphaelite Italian art.

The Pre-Raphaelites focused on painting subjects from modern life and literature often used historical costumes for accuracy. They painted directly from nature itself, as accurately as possible and with intense attention to detail.

The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their art, and published a periodical to promote their ideas. A later, medieval influence extended the movement’s power into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Exploring Pre-Raphaelite Art

Dante and Beatrice

  • Title:                Dante and Beatrice
  • Artist:              Henry Holiday
  • Date:               1883
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Style:               Pre-Raphaelite
  • Dimensions:    Height: 2,032 mm (80 ″); Width: 2,032 mm (80 ″)
  • Museum:         Walker Art Gallery

Henry Holiday

  • Name:                Henry Holiday
  • Born:                 1839, London, England
  • Died:                 1927, London, England
  • Nationality:        English
  • Notable works:

Explore the Walker Art Gallery

Reflections

  • How many missed opportunities through misunderstanding?

Quotes about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement

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“All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.”
– John Ruskin

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“The greatest foe to art is luxury; art cannot live in its atmosphere.”
– William Morris

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“Art is not a study of positive reality; it is the seeking for ideal truth.”
– John Ruskin

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“Better by far, you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.”
– Christina Rossetti

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“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
– John Ruskin

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“The past is not dead; it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
– William Morris

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“The artist has done nothing till he has concealed himself — the art is imperfect which is visible,-the feelings are but feebly touched, if they permit us to reason on the methods of their excitement.”
– John Ruskin

~~~

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”
– William Morris

~~~

“When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.”
– Christina Rossetti

~~~

“Love, which is quickly kindled in the gentle heart, seized this man for the fair form that was taken from me, the manner still hurts me. Love which absolves no beloved one from loving, seized me so strongly with his charm that, as thou sees, it does not leave me yet.”
– Dante Gabriel Rossetti

~~~

“I love art, and I love history, but it is living art and living history that I love.”
– William Morris

~~~


Photo Credit: Walker Art Gallery [Public domain]

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