Visit the Special Collections Exhibit: Depicting Dante

The image depicts Dante and Virgil beset by demons, passing through Hell, illustration by Gustave Doré of Dante's Inferno (The Divine Comedy).
View Depicting Dante: The Divine Comedy in Book Art and Illustration, on display at the entrance to Special Collections, on the 7th floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library.

About the exhibit

Special Collections and Rare Books is pleased to feature an exhibition of art and book illustrations inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy, in commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.

Portrait of Dante Alighieri
Portrait of Dante, after Raphael Morghen. Engraving by R. Young.

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the Italian poet whose great allegory The Divine Comedy has exerted a profound effect on Western literature and thought, was born in Florence in May 1265. He came from a noble—though impoverished—family, descendants from the city's Roman founders, and probably received his early schooling from the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The aristocratic poet, Guido Cavalcanti, was a significant mentor of Dante and strongly influenced his early work. For the young Dante, writing poetry became an important expression of his passion for art and learning, and of his abiding concern with the nature of love and spiritual fulfillment. In 1295, Dante entered public life and emerged within a few years as a prominent figure in Florentine politics. In 1301, however, Dante was banished at once on trumped-up charges of graft, embezzlement, and other transgressions. Later sentenced to death by fire if he returned to Florence, Dante never entered his native city again. Perhaps as early as 1306, Dante began to compose The Divine Comedy. In his final years he was given asylum in Ravenna, where he completed The Divine Comedy shortly before his death in September 1321.

 

 

Celestial rose, illustration by Gustave Doré, Dante is looking towards circles of angels
Celestial Rose: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven. Engraving by Gustave Doré.

The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy (La divina commedia in Italian, and originally named La commedia), is a classical epic poem written in Italian circa 1308–21 by Dante Alighieri. It is considered to be one of the world’s great works of literature and one of the greatest narrative poems in any language. Divided into three major sections, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise), the narrative traces the journey of the protagonist, Dante himself, from darkness and error to the revelation of the divine light. Inferno is a meditation on evil and evil behaviours; Purgatorio is focused on human nature, how we can overcome our human weakness and transcend the fallen state; and Paradiso centres on goodness, redemption, and virtue.

"You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others’ bread, how salty it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others' stairs…" Paradiso, Canto XVII

 

Jean Lamore, Divina Commedia, representation of the circles of hell, pencil on paper
Divina Commedia: Representation of the circles of hell. Illustration by Jean Lamore.

What's on display

Dante is still relevant today, 700 years after his death, and The Divine Comedy has a lasting influence. Dante's extraordinarily rich, visual imagination has inspired many artists throughout history—from manuscript illuminators in the Middle Ages to contemporary illustrators. The Divine Comedy has been adapted in various media, films, manga books, and video games.

This exhibit looks at the impact The Divine Comedy had on artists, authors, and poets throughout the centuries and is intended to introduce users to some of the most famous illustrations of the poem. It includes a selection of illustrations of The Divine Comedy in SFU Library's Special Collections and Rare Books and features a wide range of artists—from Sandro Boticelli, William Blake, Gustave Doré, to African contemporary artists. The exhibit also features one video game from the Games Collection at Fraser Library (SFU Surrey), Dante's Inferno.

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate." / "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

During and after after the exhibit, readers may consult the illustrations in the Special Collections and Rare Books reading room (Room 7100)

 

 

 

References

Random House, Inc. Biographical note to Paradise, by Dante Alighieri. Translated and edited by Anthony Esolen. New York: The Modern Library, 2004

Date(s)
January 4 - February 25
Location
7th floor, W.A.C. Bennett Library (SFU Burnaby)
Contact for further information
Ioana Liuta, Special Collections Librarian, at iliuta@sfu.ca
or Special Collections and Rare Books at scrb@sfu.ca