Orvieto celebrates Dantedì with this unique portrait of bearded Dante

In Orvieto, for Dantedì, the municipality draws attention to a curious painting from the 16th-17th centuries, a portrait of an unusual Dante... bearded. A work about which very little is known.

For the 2021 edition of Dantedì, the day on which the great Dante Alighieri (Florence, 1265 - Ravenna, 1321) is remembered, the Municipality of Orvieto draws attention to a recently discovered painting: it is an unusual portrait of Dante, from the 16th-17th centuries, in which the Supreme Poet is depicted with a beard. It is not the only image in which the author of the Divine Comedy is bearded (the most famous is surely that of Andrea del Castagno), but it is certainly not such a widespread iconography. The work, which has been in Orvieto’s mayor’s office for years, will be featured in an exhibition to be held in September at the “Claudio Faina” Foundation in Orvieto, entitled The True Face of Dante Alighieri - On the Trails of the Supreme Poet in Orvieto.

We do not know the author of the painting: the painter, however, appears clearly inspired by the portraits in the Jovian series by the Florentine Cristofano dell’Altissimo (the manners are similar), as well as by Giovanni Boccaccio’s description of Dante Alighieri’s face in the Trattatello in laude di Dantescrittobetween 1351 and 1355, in which we read: “His countenance was long, and the nose aquiline, and the eyes rather large than small, the jaws large, and from the labrum below was that above advanced; and the color was brown and the hair and beard thick, black and frizzy, and always in the face melancholy and pensive.”

“The painting of Dante with a beard,” said Roberta Tardani, mayor of Orvieto and alderman for culture, “absolutely represents an unprecedented. The painting has been in the mayor’s room in Orvieto since time immemorial but has never aroused particular curiosity. We became aware of this originality the moment we thought of organizing something for the celebrations of the seven hundredth anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. The exhibition will be held in the halls of the Faina Museum presumably starting on September 14, the date of the poet’s death, and will be free of charge for residents of Orvieto, but we are also thinking about reciprocity agreements with other municipalities in the area to encourage free access for our citizens to their museums and vice versa. The framework initiative will certainly be central but not the only one. Starting tomorrow and throughout the year, there will also be other side events involving the City Study Center, the municipal music school and the city’s high schools. We want to send a message, that of restarting with culture, with cultural heritage, which we consider the most valuable asset our reality has.”

“Why,” asks Daniele Di Loreto, president of the Faina Foundation, “if Dante is described by Boccaccio with a full beard, did no one except the author of this painting portray him with a beard? The first mystery is that we do not know who the author is. Second, we do not know the date of its making. In the opinion of some art historians we questioned it should be traceable to the late sixteenth century, it could be a pupil of Cristofano dell’Altissimo, the painter who made, copied at least 280 portraits from Paolo Giovio’s collection known as the ’Jovian series,’ most of them exhibited in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Third mystery, there are two letters on the back of the frame, ’PC’, which presumably should be from the commissioner, the first owner of the painting, but we have not identified him. Fourth, we do not know how it came to be inventoried among the property of the Municipality of Orvieto: certainly a donation, in good probability it is Filippo Antonio Gualterio, a famous Orvietan who lived in the nineteenth century, politician and historian, senator of the Kingdom of Italy, Minister of the Interior of the Royal House. In the opinion of another art historian whom we questioned, the beard could be a false one, painted after the original painting, and this too would be another mystery. The aim of this initiative is to arouse curiosity and interest about this singular and original painting on which we will continue our investigations and technical investigations in the coming weeks in order to answer all our questions.”

Orvieto’s City Hall is not the only place in the city that preserves a portrait of Dante: there is in fact the celebrated one that Luca Signorelli frescoed in the Cappella Nova, or Chapel of San Brizio. And the Opera del Duomo will also commemorate Dante’s 700th anniversary. “I am very pleased with this opportunity given to us on the occasion of the celebration of the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death,” said Andrea Taddei, President of the Opera del Duomo of Orvieto, “an opportunity that has resulted in coordinated work between various institutions and cultural bodies that operate in various capacities in the City of Orvieto. The Opera del Duomo in fact already has a permanent exhibition of Dante inside the Chapel of San Brizio. We have not yet set the exact dates but we, too, count on starting again and presenting between September/October 2021, possibly in attendance, two or perhaps three scheduled events. The intention is to restart with cultural and tourism promotion by connecting the iconography present in the Chapel of San Brizio and the first prints of the Divine Comedy. It was precisely in Umbria, in fact, that the first edition of the Divine Comedy was printed in 1472, followed by the Florentine editions in 1481. Signorelli’s works in the Duomo are dated between 1499 and 1503 so we will be able to offer visitors an organic reading that can give visibility to the iconographic part of the extraordinary images of the Nova Chapel of Orvieto Cathedral with the writings of the Divine Comedy. The painting of Dante Alighieri with a beard that is in the office of the Mayor of Orvieto certainly constitutes a uniqueness that opens a different and new reading than the one we already have of Dante Alighieri.”

Meanwhile, a number of virtual initiatives are being held for Dante Tuesday to celebrate the poet. On the Tracks of Dante Alighieri in Orvieto is the title of the video made by the Orvieto City Council Culture Department in collaboration with the “Adriano Casasole” Municipal School and the “Luigi Fumi” New Public Library. From St. Patrick’s Well and the Chapel of San Brizio in the Duomo, Alessio Tempesta and Orvieto actress Giulia Schiavo will read the 6th Canto of Purgatory while TV host and writer Guido Barlozzetti will talk about the relationship between art and the Divine Comedy summarized in the paintings of Luca Signorelli. The video, which will be posted on social channels and You Tube, will be a kind of teaser for the event Dante, the Poet of the Finimondo that the “City of Orvieto” Study Center will organize in September. Also online tomorrow will be the Dante, man on the road initiative promoted by the Orvieto Unitre with speeches by Franco Raimondo Barbabella, Donato Catamo, Raffaele Davanzo, Roberta Menichetti, Fioralba Salani and the participation of students from the “F.A. Gualterio” classical high school. Also scheduled for September is the musical-cultural production by the Municipal School of Music, which will unite two important celebrations that of the 100th anniversary of Mancinelli’s death and that of Dante’s 700th: the link will be the opera Paolo e Francesca written by Mancinelli himself for Arturo Colautti’s verses and referring to the Fifth Canto of the Divine Comedy’s inferno.

Orvieto celebrates Dantedì with this unique portrait of bearded Dante
Orvieto celebrates Dantedì with this unique portrait of bearded Dante

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