Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante

Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Physical Description

Medium: pen and ink
Dimensions: 8 x 7 in.
Signature: signature
Date on Image: 1852
Note: The signature and date are inscribed at lower left.

Production Description

Production Date: 1852
Exhibition History: Leicester Museums and Art Gallery, The Victorian Vision of Italy , 1968 (no.35)


Current Location: Tate Gallery
Catalog Number: 4283
Archival History: J. R. Holliday Bequest 1927.

Scholarly Commentary


Giotto is painting the portrait of Dante on a chapel wall, while Beatrice moves below in a procession of women. Cimabue stands nearby, but Cavalcanti—who is present in the Fogg picture and who also figured in the untraced watercolour—is not here. The picture was to have been the first in a Dantescan triptych. 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.

Production History

This is the drawing DGR made in 1852 preliminary to the watercolour of the same year (the latter now untraced). DGR intended to do a painting on the subject but never did. The unfinished replica, now in the Fogg Museum, seems to have been planned at this time as well, according to Hunt's letter; it was not executed until 1859.


The arrangement is all but allegorical of DGR's “triple relation” of “Art, Friendship, and Love” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 53. 1). 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, 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 perfectness]” (see DGR's letter to Thomas Woolner, 1 January 1853, Fredeman, Correspondence, 53. 1). DGR made a translation of the passage from Dante.


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.


Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante
Description: Giotto is painting the portrait of Dante on a chapel wall, while Beatrice moves below in a procession of women. Cimabue is on the right.
Copyright: ©Tate, London 2004

Included Text

Note: Six lines of Italian verse from Dante's Purgatorio, followed by the two opening lines of a sonnet from the Vita Nuova, are inscribed below the drawing.
  • “Credete Cimabue nella pintura
  • Tener lo campo; ed ora ha Giotto il grido,
  • Sì che la fama di colui s'oscura.
  • Così ha tolto l'uno all'altro Guido
  • La gloria della lingua; e forse è nato
  • Chi l'uno e l'altro caccierà di nido.”
  • Vede perfettamente ogni salute
  • Chi la mia donna—tra le donne—vede.


  1. image

    Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné , vol. 2, plate 45.
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
File Name: s54a.rap.xml