The importance of this subject for DGR is underscored by this unfinished replica of the
work. DGR undertook the picture in 1852 as part of a planned triptych on key events in Dante's
life and career. WMR elaborates how the picture was “to represent the life
and work of the great Florentine in a triple relation” (see WMR,
DGR as Designer and Writer
, 16-17). DGR himself named that triple relation “Art, Friendship, and
Letters, DWI. 123). The other two panels of the triptych would have shown Dante as a Florentine
magistrate sentencing Cavalcanti to exile, and Dante at the court of Can Grande della Scala.
Sketches toward the latter survive as
Dante at Verona
The Art celebrated in DGR's picture is clearly a Rossettian “double work of
art.” Indeed, the picture underscores DGR's attachment to the ideal of relationship
per se, with love and friendship reflecting an interchange he pursued in his life as an
artist, designer, and writer.
This unfinished watercolour is a replica made 1859 (circa). DGR had finished a
drawing and another
The figures in this imaginary historical reconstruction, besides Giotto and Dante, were to
have been Cimabue (Giotto's master) standing behind the painter as he works, and Cavalcanti
(holding a book of Guinicelli's verses) standing behind Dante. As in the finished drawing,
Beatrice was to have been moving below them, reading from a book, in a procession of women.
The arrangement is strongly conceptual, all but allegorical, of DGR's
“triple relation” of “Art, Friendship,
and Love”. Dante and Giotto represent Art, the relations between the
various men (but especially between Giotto and Dante) represent Friendship, and Beatrice and
the women focus the subject of Love.
A complex set of historical circumstances invest this picture.
Giotto's original picture—a fresco celebrating the glory of
Florence—included the figure of Dante holding a pomegranate. It was painted
sometime between 1290-1300 on the altar wall of the Palace of the Podesta (later the Bargello)
in Florence, but was subsequently covered with whitewash. It was rediscovered in 1840. Seymour
Kirkup, one of the scholars who made the discovery and a friend of DGR's father, made a copy
of the portrait of Dante and sent it to Gabriele Rossetti, from whom it passed to DGR.
According to DGR, the picture —illustrates a passage in the
Purgatorio [XI. 94-99] . . . where Dante speaks of Cimabue, Giotto, the two Guidos (Guinicelli
and Cavalcanti. . .) and, by implication, himself. For the introduction of Beatrice, who with
the other women . . . are making a procession through the church, I quote a passage from the
Vita Nuova [XXVI: Sonnet: For certain he hath seen all
Letters, DW, vol. 1, 123).
It is clear that DGR took the imaginary event pictured in the scene as an emblematic
figuration of some of his most cherished ideas about art, and in particular about art's
relation to love, friendship, and poetry.