An exhibition in Bologna on Dante and his interest in the art of the miniature

From May 28 to Oct. 3, 2021, the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna is hosting an exhibition dedicated to the relationship between Dante Alighieri and the art of the miniature. It is titled "Dante and the Miniature in Bologna at the Time of Oderisi da Gubbio and Franco Bolognese."

From May 28 to Oct. 3, 2021, the Museo Civico Medievale of Bologna is participating in the celebrations for the seventh centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri (Florence, 1265 - Ravenna, 1321) with the exhibition Dante and the Miniature in Bologna at the Time of Oderisi da Gubbio and Franco Bolognese. The exhibition is curated by Massimo Medica, head of Musei Civici d’Arte Antica di Bologna, and curator of the exhibition Le Arti al tempo dell’esilio set up in the church of San Romualdo in Ravenna until September 8, 2021, the second major event of the exhibition cycle Dante. The Eyes and the Mind, promoted by the Municipality of Ravenna - Department of Culture and the MAR Art Museum of the City of Ravenna in collaboration with the Uffizi Galleries.

The Bologna exhibition presents 14 illuminated codices that can be traced back to Bolognese illuminated production between the second half of the 13th and early 14th centuries, selected from the collection holdings of the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna. Recalling the intense and fruitful relationship that Dante Alighieri had with the city of Bologna during his lifetime, the reasons for the exhibition move from the curious gaze and careful critical sensitivity that he had to turn toward the figurative arts, of which he showed knowledge in the most important developments coeval to his time.

Dante stayed in Bologna on several occasions: a first time probably around 1286-87, when he perhaps attended the University. More prolonged, however, must have been his second stay, which saw the poet stay in the city for at least two years, from 1304 to 1306. Having left Verona, and then Arezzo, Dante now sought in writing and study the motive for his redemption that would lift him from the ignominy of exile, which had begun in 1302. And it is probable that under these circumstances he had chosen precisely Bologna as a possible new destination, apt to guarantee him the necessary resources to live and also to study and write. A presence that must have enabled him to come into contact with some of those places deputed to the production and sale of books, where he had probably heard of the same miniaturist Oderisi da Gubbio whose encounter he recounts, among the superb, in the 11th canto of Purgatory: “”Oh!“,” said I him, “are not you Oderisi,/ the honor of Agobbio and the honor of that art/ ch’alluminar chiamata è in Parisi?”/ “Friar,” said he, "more ridon le carte/ che pennelleggia Franco Bolognese;/ the honor is all now his, and mine in part. And it is particularly in this canto, often the subject of reflections by art historians, that the poet’s interest in the pictorial disciplines and the art of illuminated book decoration is hinted at. Indeed, the triplets hint at the poet’s relations with the world of book production at the highest levels, which must not have been limited to the Eugubinian’s personal acquaintance, as evidenced by the reference to the Parisian enluminure and the other illuminator Franco Bolognese, showing how Dante’s artistic knowledge was up-to-date, and not limited only to the better-known figures of Cimabue and Giotto, but also learned about a more exclusive and elite art such as that of illumination.

Oderisi da Gubbio indeed turns out to be documented in Bologna between the 1360s and 1770s, which leads one to believe that he had worked in the sphere of the local miniature of the so-called “first style” (a traditional school still linked to the Byzantine style) whose characteristics return, as some of the codices on display document, in the rapid and cursive drafting, played on a very limited range of colors (ufficio del tempo, ms. 511; antiphonary of the time, ms. 513; lectionary, ms. 514; antiphonary of the time, ms. 515; antiphonary of the time, ms. 516; collectory, ms. 612).

This first phase was to be followed later by a different and more up-to-date current of style capable of renewing, in the use of a figurative syntax linked to the models of the Byzantine tradition, the character of the decorations of the Bolognese codices in a Gothicizing direction. This further current, called the “second style,” had as its protagonist the so-called Master of the Gerona Bible, a name derived from a very sumptuous Bible now preserved in the Gerona Chapter Library. As can be seen from the graduals he illuminated for the church of St. Francis (mss. 526,527), his aptitude for confronting the most cultured models of Hellenistic-Byzantine culture comes alive in the cadenced eurhythmias that characterize the various figurations, rethought one would say directly on the examples of the miniature of the Paleologic age, but also antecedents that can be linked to the Macedonian renaissance. All interpreted with a verve and vitality, including chromatic vitality, of a wholly Western flavor, such as to presuppose a comparison also with the coeval innovations of monumental painting, well documented in Bologna in the years of Dante’s earliest sojourn, from the Majesty that Cimabue executed for the Church of the Servants. And it is perhaps to this change that Dante alludes in the Commedia when, after referring to Oderisi da Gubbio, he speaks precisely of the other miniaturist, Franco Bolognese (“l’onor è ora tutto suo, e mio in parte,” as indeed the setting of the poem in the year 1300, when surely Oderisi was already deceased, might also suggest). Reflections of this courtly style can be seen in much of the codices illuminated in Bologna between the late thirteenth century and the very early fourteenth century (gradual, ms.521; antiphonary, ms.529, antiphonary ms.532, matricula dei Merciai of 1303, ms.629) where, however, there also appears to be a growing adherence to a narrative rhythm of a by then Gothic style that in some cases already seems to presuppose knowledge of certain Giottesque models.

On the occasion of the first day of opening to the public, curator Massimo Medica leads a guided tour on Friday, May 28 at 5 p.m. Reservations required by 1 p.m. the same day, by calling 051 2193916 / 2193930. Cost of participation included in the museum entrance fee. For info, reservations and payment methods: There is also a schedule of four afternoon animated tours aimed at the adult public, curated by Senza Titolo S.r.l., which will be enriched by readings from the Divine Comedy and from the works of world-renowned scholars and literati who have dealt with Dante and the art of his time: Friday, June 18, 5 p.m.; Friday, July 9, 5 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 17, 5 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 1, 5 p.m. Cost: €6 per participant + museum ticket, payment possible by bank transfer or Paypal. Reservations required by 1 p.m. on the day the animated visit is scheduled. Info, reservations and payment methods:

Image: Miniatore Bolognese, Matricola Drappieri (ms. 627)

An exhibition in Bologna on Dante and his interest in the art of the miniature
An exhibition in Bologna on Dante and his interest in the art of the miniature

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