A rare gem – the first certified portrait of Dante

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The premises of the old Guild of Judges and Notaries in Piazza Della Signoria, Florence were restored in 2005, providing the opportunity not only for archaeological excavations in the basement but also for the creation of a museum on the first floor, and a restaurant on the ground floor. It is in the museum that you will find a rare gem – the first certified portrait of Dante and also one of Boccaccio.

It was during the restoration of the frescoed walls of the first floor that various discoveries were made: the so-called Sant’Ivo lunette, a lunette of the Arti del Trivio letterario [depicting the figures of Grammar, Rhetoric and Dialectics] and a lunette with the portraits of the four writers who were considered to the “founding fathers” of the Florentine Republic – at least, of the Republic as envisaged by Coluccio Salutatim the chancellor or Palazzo Vecchio. The portraits of two of these figures, (Petrarch and Zanobi da Strada) have all but disappeared, with the exception of a few fragments. However, at either end of the composition, one can clearly identify Dante (above) and Boccaccio.

Critics have no doubt about the authenticity of the Dante portrait, which shows a face which corresponds to the one depicted in the nearby Cappella della Maddalena frescoes in the Bargello (painted 1336-37).; the skin is slightly dark and the nose has its famous aquiline form, even if it is not hooked. Over the period of a century, famous artists painted other portraits here, with the palazzo becoming a veritable workshop for the city’s homage to the literature in which it took such pride. Andrea del Castagno painted Leonardo Bruni, Ambrogio di Baldese painted Coluccion Salutati and the Latin poet Claudian (believed to be a native of Florence), and Pollaiolo painted Poggio Bracciolini.

I will write a another piece about Dante shortly, but this is a wonderful image to have been preserved and it is certainly worth a visit if you are in Florence.

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