Dante and Somerville, an exhibtion – 1-7 February

Rebecca Bowen and I have curated an exhibition to celebrate Somerville’s long history of study and teaching of the poetry Dante Alighieri.

Somerville exhibition landscape poster

The exhibition is made up of items from the library’s special collections, including a 16th-century edition of the Divine Comedy, complete with commentaries a lovely woodcut illustrations, a first edition of Gustave Doré’s 19th-centrury illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, and Mary Somerville’s own copy of the Divine Comedy.

Current graduate and undergraduate students – Anna Branford, Katie Bastiman, Sofia Derer, Aleksandra Rutkowska, and Joanna Raisbeck – have researched and written a lot of the information included in the exhibition. We are also very grateful to Anne Manuel, Sue Purver, and Matthew Roper for their help and advice, without which this exhibtion wouldn’t have been possible.

The exhibition is Library Loggia, and you can ask at the porters’ lodge for directions and access.

Dante’s World

This looks likes a wondrous exhibition. It’s exciting to see the level of engagement and re-elaboration of Dante’s work across media at the moment.

The exhibition of Rachel Owen’s new illustrations of the Inferno at Pembroke College, Oxford, represents another rich addition to this tradition.

RachelOwenFlyer-jpgforwebsite

Part of this must certainly be to do with this particular temporal sweet spot, between the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth (which we celebrated in 2015) and the 700th anniversary of his death (to come in 2021), but this isn’t the only explanation.

Dante’s have been a source texts for visual, musical and new literary art for centuries, something I’ve written about elsewhere, and it’s rewarding, as a researcher, to see the everliving and developing nature of his artistic legacy.

Ordered Universe

A new exhibition opens in Durham this week, at the Palace Green Library Galleries. Curated by Annalisa Cipollone Dante: Hell, Heaven and Hope – A Journey through Life and the After-Life with Danteopens on Saturday 2nd December 2017, and runs until early March 2018. Following Dante’s poem The Divine Comedy with its tour through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, the exhibition features rare manuscripts of Dante’s work, printed copies and artistic responses to one of the greatest imaginative achievements of the Middle Ages. 

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Dante Casually Running Into Beatrice In Art History

 

The Toast knocks it out of the park again with a reflection on quite how creepy the premise of the Vita nova and Dante’s subsequent Beatrice-oriented work could be…

“Maybe the idea of a gentleman who beheld your visage but the twice writing a series of time-alteringly famous books where you are forced to guide him through Heaven and gaze beatifically on his bed a’nights is just exactly what gets you going, though. What this post presupposes, though, is: what if it wasn’t awesome?”

Source: Dante Casually Running Into Beatrice In Art History

A Divine Comedy: adaptations & new (in)versions

I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately, except for a fair few reblogs from the Women and the Canon Conference blog. In my defence, I’ve been writing those too, but it doesn’t quite feel the same!

So, as the dust settles from the Edinburgh fringe, I just wanted to nod to an interesting adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Mike Maran’s A Divine Comedy, which BroadwayBaby gave ★★★ – one for each realm?

“Dante Alighieri. Lost love. A load of puppets. Whilst that might all seem an odd combination, Mike Maran brings it all together admirably in A Divine Comedy: a stand-up storytelling parody of the immortal works of Dante Alighieri.”

Maran’s sounds like a far more apt adaptation than the forthcoming movie scripted by Dwain Worrell, which, Warner Brothers tell us, sees “Dante [descending] through the nine circles of hell tosave the woman he loves” – a grimly chauvanist inversion of the narrative that I’ve ranted about before, when it formed the crux of a 2010 videogame adaptation of the poem.

Maran’s approach, which I hope he takes on tour, so I get a chance to see it, sounds like its based on a love for the source and a genuine desire to adapt rather than misogynise the text. This approach, along with some of the reporting of the new movie happily demonstrate that at least not everyone is buying into this revisionist claptrap.

Of course, there’s something quite appropriate about revisionist adaptation, as that was one of Dante’s specialties and I talk about one such example in this article on the episode of the Siren in canto XIX on Purgatorio. The gist of the article is that the Siren represents Dante’s past errors of writing and reading which he attempts to revise through the figure of the hag who becomes a siren and then is revealed once more to be hideous. OK, so perhaps the text isn’t entirely non-misogynist itself… In fact, the Comedy buys into plenty of the misogynistic tropes of its day, but it does also do some rather radical things in terms of ascribing full rational agency to its female characters (not a trifling thing for a text of its period to do) and, of course, placing an authoritative women, Beatrice, at the heart of its narrative. Beatrice who teaches Dante about the ways of grace and the heavens, Beatrice who saves Dante, NOT the other way around.

Source: A Divine Comedy: Broadway Baby, Brighter Coverage.

Dante, Eünoè, and The Future of Higher Education

Dante’s imagery crops up in the unlikeliest of places. Here, in Marina Warner’s impassioned defence of the Humanities, the freedom of learning and enquiry, and the importance of ‘good, active knowledge’, the river Eünoè in Dante’s Purgatorio appears as an image for the best kinds of engaged learning, research, and teaching.

I’ve noticed a lot of tricolons in this introductory spiel, perhaps I’ve been ensnared by thoughts of Dante’s terza rima… Here are his lines describing his experience of the waters of Eünoè in the Earthly Paradise:

“Ma vedi Eünoè che là diriva:

menalo ad esso, e come tu se’ usa,

la tramortita sua virtù ravviva.”

Come anima gentil, che non fa scusa,

ma fa sua voglia de la voglia altrui

tosto che è per segno fuor dischiusa;

così, poi che da essa preso fui,

la bella donna* mossesi, e a Stazio**

donnescamente disse: “Vien con lui.”

S’io avessi, lettor, più lungo spazio

da scrivere, i’ pur cantere’ in parte

lo dolce ber che mai non m’avria sazio;

ma perché piene son tutte le carte

ordite a questa cantica seconda,

non mi lascia più ir lo fren de l’arte.

Io ritornai da la santissima onda

rifatto sì come piante novelle

rinovellate di novella fronda,

puro e disposto a salire a le stelle.

   ‘But see Eunoe streaming forth there.

Bring him to it and, as you are accustomed,

revive the powers that are dead in him.’

   As a gentle spirit that makes no excuses

but makes another’s will its own

as soon as any signal makes that clear,

   so, once she held me by the hand, the lady* moved

and, as though she were mistress of that place,

said to Statius**: ‘Now come with him.’

   If, reader, I had more ample space to write,

I should sing at least in part the sweetness

of the drink that never would have sated me,

   but, since all the sheets

readied for this second canticle are full,

the curb of art lets me proceed no farther.

   From those most holy waters

I came away remade, as are new plants

renewed with new-sprung leaves,

pure and prepared to rise up to the stars.

Purgatorio XXXIII, 127-145 (text and translation, as ever, from the Princeton Dante Project)

* The lady here is Matelda, an enigmatic figure who plays I vital role in helping Dante navigate the Earthly Paradise at the top of the mountain of Purgatory.

** Statius is a Roman poet of the Silver Age whose works include The Thebaid and The Achilleid

Marina Warner · Learning My Lesson · LRB 19 March 2015.

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com

This exhibition is definitely filed under ‘times I wish I lived in New York’…

Not only does it engage my general manuscript nerdery, but it also ticks the ‘birth of the Italian language’ and ‘roots of Italian poetry’ boxes to make a trifecta of medievalist joy.

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com.

In Dante’s Paradiso (XI, 55-57), Francis gets this glowing write-up:

‘Non era ancor molto lontan da l’orto, / ch’el cominciò a far sentir la terra / de la sua gran virtute alcun conforto.’

‘Not much time as yet had passed / when he first lent his comfort to the earth / by the greatness of his virtuous power.’

For Dante, Francis may have been a model of exile and of the humility of which Dante himself keenly felt the lack. In this episode in the Divine Comedy, Dante gives us a biography of Francis that hinges on the image of Francis in love with an oft-scorned lady, who is a symbol for poverty. The importance of the poverty of priests to Dante’s view of the ideal church is paramount and the cause of much ranting in both the Divine Comedy and in the Monarchia in particular.

To see the early manuscripts of such a significant figure as Francis would be truly exciting.

Oh well, here’s hoping they bring it on tour, or indeed, that I get the chance to visit the archives at some point! (If the Vatican Library let me in, I may have a shot!).

 

 

Text and translation, as ever, from the Princeton Dante Project.

Dante, Doré and Satire

So while not strictly about Dante, this is definitely Dante related.

Gustav Doré: Dante and Virgil's Ice Skating Adventure (or the traitors in Cocytus)

Gustav Doré: Dante and Virgil’s Ice Skating Adventure (or the traitors in Cocytus)

All you Divine Comedy fans out there will likely be familiar with Gustav Doré’s superb illustrations of our favourite pilgrim’s progress through the afterlife, but did you know he was a major mover and shaker in the world of satirical illustration?

Hot on the heels of a visit to the Musée D’Orsay’s fascinating and comprehensive exhibition of Gustav’s outrageously varied output (clock casings, epic canvasses, sculptures, sketches and oils) my wife wrote this piece for the Oxonion Review of books, which focusses on his place in the history of satire.

The exhibition really was fascinating, and if you manage to be in Paris before 11 May I highly recommend swinging by. There’s a deftness and wit to so many of Doré’s pieces, balanced by a keenly observed tragedy and social commentary in his paintings of bohemians and beggars. The severity and piety of his large scale religious works left me somewhat flat, displaying Doreé at his most stolidly 19th century, in stark contrast to his comic and often scathing caricatures or his proto-surreal bronzes.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the starting point of an assessment far more eloquent than my own:

Nowadays, Gustave Doré is predominantly remembered for his woodcut illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which manage, in a peculiarly 19th-century way, to be both sternly po-faced and flamboyantly crammed with writhing, naked flesh. The Musée D’Orsay exhibition, however, is more interested in highlighting his prodigious contributions to the arts of satirical illustration and cartooning, and devotes nearly an entire, very crowded floor to his extraordinarily productive career.

Jennifer Thorp,  ‘Satire and the Illustration’

Gustav Doré: Dandyism Ruralising

Gustav Doré: Dandyism Ruralising

Radio, what’s new?

So, I know I promised to say things about my trip to Leeds, and I certainly will, soon, I promise.
But in the interim… whattaya know? An adaptation of the Divine Comedy is the Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4 at the moment!

It’s got even got John Hurt for Who fans (playing the ‘older Dante’ by which I guess they mean the narratorial voice?)
Either way, it should be interesting and there’s also a short documentary on the making of the recording. They take a delightfully old school, radiophonic workshop approach to sound effects, which is interesting. Look out for the rice pudding!
Now, this isn’t entirely irrelevant to my Leeds Centre for Dante Studies visit, as I tried my hand at a bit of podcasting on a few poets, of which more later.
I will leave you now to have a bit of a listen!