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Representation of eternal love in art: Dante's Beatrice


Dante Alighieri, father of Italian language and literature... and his undying love "Beatrice"... Beatrice, as a woman Dante had always loved, is the source of divine beauty. Dante decides to say things for Beatrice that two lovers in the world never say to each other. He talks about Beatrice to the fullest both in his Vita Nuova (New Life) and in Divina Commedia.


Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), which is Dante's magnum opus and which has been much talked about and written, is a work in which the poet's post-death journey is told. It was written in three parts (Hell-Purgatory-Heaven) in Tuscan dialect and it was instrumental in the development of Italian as a separate language. Here, Beatrice is the person who will take Dante to the last point of Heaven.


So how did Dante describe Beatrice? In Vita Nuova we see the donna mondana, the mortal woman side of Beatrice, and in the Divina Commedia, we see the donna angelicata, the angelic woman side. This dual nature of Beatrice is also directly related to her divine beauty.

Raffaele Giannetti , Dante & Beatrice, 1877

Reflected first to the human world with Vita Nuova and then to the divine world with Divina Commedia, Beatrice is the center of Dante's artistic and poetic imagination. In the Paradise section of Divina Commedia, Beatrice becomes the representative of all the values attributed to women, that is "La somma di tutte le virtù femminili" in Italian.



Henry Holiday, Dante meets Beatrice at Santa Trinità Bridge,  1883

Beatrice also always finds reflection in painting as a representation of purity and beauty. Henry Holiday's painting depicting Dante's love for Beatrice Portinari is an example of "Beatrice's Salutation", which has become a frequently depicted theme in art history. Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. The painting is based on an incident when Beatrice, hearing rumors about it, refused to talk to him. Here, Beatrice and two other female figures are shown crossing the Santa Trinità Bridge in Florence. Dante and Beatrice don't talk much here, but this encounter remains one of the most memorable events in Dante's life.


C.W.F. Oesterly, Dante & Beatrice, 1845

In Divina Commedia, Beatrice does not appear in the first part of the work, Inferno, where it is the Roman poet Virgil who guides Dante. Virgil cannot enter Heaven because

he is Pagan. Beatrice accompanies Dante on his journey from part of the Purgatory part through to the entire Paradise part.

Where Virgil is understood as the human mind and philosophy, Beatrice represents religious knowledge and passion. Philosophy is suitable for guiding Dante in the less sacred realms of sin and repentance (such as Purgatory and Hell), but only divine faith leads the soul to God.


Amos Nattini, Apparition of Beatrice, 20.c

In Purgatory, Beatrice symbolizes Faith with a green cloak, Hope with a red dress, and Charity with a white veil. In these depictions she usually appears in a cloud of flowers.


Portraits of Beatrice appear to represent a heavenly figure (donna angelicata) or a cultured middle-class woman (donna mondana). Beatrice appears as "donna angelicata" throughout the Divina Commedia. As the embodiment of blessed love, she is therefore the most suitable person to take Dante into the realm of divine bliss.




Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1863-70


In the history of art, it has been pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti who has struggled to find Beatrice's true identity. In many of his works, he tries to reveal Beatrice's identity. For example, in his painting "Beata Beatrix", he depicts Beatrice through his deceased wife Elizabeth Siddal. Here, the dove, a symbol of love, carries a white weasel in its beak, meaning sleep or death. Just above the dove, as a reference to the Beatrice's death in Vita Nuova, - nine o'clock on June 9, 1290- we see a sundial pointing at nine. Of the two figures in the back, Dante on the right and Love symbolized in red on the left.



As a woman that Dante loves in real life, Beatrice symbolizes the beauty of the highest heavens in poetry. Throughout the poem, there is no doubt that Beatrice's eyes, which reflect the glory of God as a symbol of beauty, are also given special treatment. Beatrice's eyes are also an important reference in Dante's journey to reach God. Virgil is the first person to mention these eyes in the poem. Virgil claims that Beatrice's eyes are brighter than any star in the sky.


Odilon Redon, Beatrice, 1885

At this point, we see Beatrice as a representation of the “sacred vision” called visione beatifica. For Dante, Beatrice's beauty is so high that Dante identifies her with the Virgin Mary. That's why Dante even thinks that Beatrice's eyes cast a shadow over Mary's. It is important for Dante to be a prisoner of Beatrice's beauty on the path to attaining God. Because for Dante, beauty cannot be separated from the good and the true.

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