Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1884)

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is Dante and Beatrice by the English painter Henry Holiday who was born in London in 1839.  Holiday was a landscape painter as well as a stained glass designer, sculptor and illustrator.  At his death he was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite.

The painting, completed in 1884, was considered to be one Henry Holiday’s most important painting.  The theme of the painting is based on the medieval poet Dante Alighieri’s work La Vita Nuova.   Dante concealed his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted by other women. The scene depicted in the painting is that of Beatrice refusing to greet Dante because of the gossip that had reached her. Beatrice is the woman dressed in white and she was modelled by Eleanor Butcher. The woman next to Beatrice is Monna Vanna, a companion of Beatrice and the mistress of Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti. Monna Vanna was modelled by Milly Hughes.  Whilst Beatrice looks stern and statuesque ignoring the presence of Dante, Monna Vanna, in contrast, looks back at Dante so as to judge his reaction to Beatrice’s behaviour.

Holiday paid much attention to detail, so much so, he visited Florence in order to carry out research for the painting and describes what his findings were in a letter:

“…..I wanted to get on the spot and see the general lie of the lines – the perspective in fact, of the buildings and still more the sense of colour, and as far as possible to collect such fragments, as remain of buildings of Dante’s time, so as to be able to alter the details to the character of the period… . “

He set the scene of the painting at the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking towards the Ponte Vecchio under which flows the River Arno.

Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Rossetti

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1871)

The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London in 1828.   His father was an exiled Italian patriot and Dante scholar.  Torn between a lifetime concentrating on his poetry or a lifetime as a painter, he decided that painting was his first love although he never gave up his love of writing poetry.  In 1848 he co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.  Maybe, because of his father, Dante Rossetti had a life-long interest in the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and today’s picture offering is Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice which he painted in 1871 and which now hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The painting represents an episode from the Dante Alighieri poem La Vita Nuova (The New Life), a work made up of both verse and prose.  In this poem Dante Alighieri dreams that he is led by love to the death-bed of Beatrice Portinari, who was the object of his unfulfilled love.

This is Rossetti’s largest painting and with it he creates a visionary world using soft rich colours and complex symbols.  The two female attendants wear green, which is symbolic of hope.   The spring blossom held by the angel in red, who holds Dante’s hand, represents purity and the poppies strewn on the floor symbolise the sleep of dreams and death.   The model for Beatrice was Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris, whom Dante Rossetti had a long-term affair.  William Morris was an English textile designer, artist, and writer associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti abandoned Arthurian and Tennysonian subjects in his later works and concentrated on the subject closest to his heart – women.  He was a love poet and a love painter and there has been no greater worshipper of female beauty in English painting.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.