By Anne Leader
On 19 June 1465, the painters Neri di Bicci (1418-92) and Alessio Baldovinetti (1425-99) assessed a painting showing poet Dante Alighieri holding a copy of his literary masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, which had been recently completed by the artist Domenico di Michelino (1417-91) to adorn the north aisle of Florence Cathedral. It was in this location that readings from the Divine Comedy were held on a regular basis.
The panel is the only one by Domenico that can be matched with supporting documentary evidence. He received the commission on 30 January 1465 from the cathedral operai (men charged with overseeing the cathedral’s construction and decoration). Domenico adhered to his contract, finishing the panting within the six months allowed for its completion. Neri and Baldovinetti found the work to be better than satisfactory, advising the operai to pay Domenico 155 lire (55 more than his original contract) because he had been so inventive in the treatment of his subject. We see a larger-than-life figure of Dante, wearing long red robes and a poet’s laurel crown, holding an open book in his left hand while gesturing with his right towards renditions of hell, purgatory, and paradise as described in his great poem. He stands before the walls of Florence, where, from left to right, the bell towers of the Palazzo del Podestà, the Badia Fiorentina, the Palazzo della Signoria, and the Cathedral, rise to the same height as the crown of Dante’s head. Only the lantern of the great cathedral cupola rises slightly higher, thus celebrating Florence through her literature and architecture.
Reference: Bruno Santi. “Neri di Bicci.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Domenico di Michelino, Dante holding the Divine Comedy, 1465, tempera on panel. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
View of Bargello (left) and Badia (right). Photo credit: Sailko.
View of the Palazzo della Signoria (i.e. Palazzo Vecchio). Photo credit: Jansoone.
View of the Cathedral. Photo credit: Enne.
Porta Romana, Florence. Photo credit: Sailko.