Dante. Purgatorio XI. 94-99

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849
Rhyme: ababcb
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: translation

Scholarly Commentary


DGR clearly translated this passage from the Purgatorio because he read Dante's text as a prolepsis of the contemporary situation of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose programmatic goal was to introduce into England a whole new approach to artistic practise. The location of the only known text of the translation (on a blank page at the end of DGR's and his father's annotated copy of the Poeti del Primo Secolo) is highly significant. DGR was using that text as one of his major sources for the translations of early Italian poets he was making at the time. The intimate relation of these translations to the ideas that helped to found the PRB is underscored by a marginal note DGR made in volume 2 of the Poeti del Primo Secolo, marking lines 1-6 of a canzone (incorrectly) attributed to Cavalcanti with the note: “Motto for the P. R. B.” The passage in the canzone translates: “It is important to judge every figure for its ability to reveal, both in its form and in its attitudes, a purified appearance of its natural character; because art should follow nature to such a degree that it doesn't fail to render likewise its own essential quality”.

The passage in Dante carries a subtle allusion to the historical relation between John the Baptist and Jesus, with Cimabue and Giotto appearing as their later secular equivalents. In addition, the passage alludes to Guido Cavalcanti succeeding Guido Guinicelli as the dominant figure in the emergence of early Italian poetry, and in the final line Dante points to himself as the culminating poet in this important moment of cultural history. DGR then remediates Dante's text to create a further historical reference, this time to the emergence of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Textual History: Composition

The only manuscript text of this (previously unpublished) translation is inscribed on a blank page at the end of DGR's and his father's annotated copy of the Poeti del Primo Secolo.


DGR inscribes the original passage from Dante on the 1852 drawing of Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante.


DGR's “Hand and Soul” is ultimately based on DGR's reading of the original text in Dante.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 48-1848.raw.xml