In 1532 Agnolo Bronzino was commissioned by the Florentine merchant and banker Bartolomeo Bettini to paint the portraits of three literary masters of the Italian Renaissance: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccacio. The paintings of Petrarch and Boccacio sadly have been lost, but Bronzino’s masterful Allegorical Portrait of Dante been well preserved, and in a very rare occurrence, is currently on view in New York City at the Italian Cultural Institute in an exhibition titled Bronzino: Allegorical Portrait of Dante.
Displayed in a room located on the second floor of the Institute, the late 16th century oil painting, which is the only work in the exhibition, commands the viewers’ attention. Like a scene resembling the crowds surrounding the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris (though on a much smaller scale), at the opening reception visitors eagerly huddled into the small room to admire the masterful poet’s familiar profile. The lunette-shaped painting portrays Dante sitting on a rock, his torso dramatically turned to the left as he looks out longingly on to the Garden of Eden. His right hand extends behind him, protecting his beloved city of Florence from which he was exiled in 1302, while in his left hand he holds his most epic life work, the Divine Comedy, is opened XXV of Paradise. He is represented wearing a red robe and is crowned with a laurel wreath, to signify his role as a poet.
“I’m from Florence and I’ve only been [in New York] for a few months. This initiative is, for me, very important. This year we celebrate the 750th birthday of Dante and in some way, this exhibition serves as a way to honor him. The fact that the painting is here and that I was able to pull it off is incredible. It wasn’t an easy feat,” Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, Giorgio van Straten, told LA VOCE.
The painting has traveled quite a bit this year in honor of the momentous occasion, and was just recently on view at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In an effort to emphasize the universal appeal of Dante’s work, the exhibition opening was followed by a six hour long poetry reading hosted by The Institute on the evening of December 16th. Thirty-four different readers read the thirty-four cantos of Dante’s unrivaled, and intensely imaginative Inferno. Seventeen of them were read in Italian, while the other seventeen were each translated into a different language and also read aloud.