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Holidays painting of Dante and Beatrice

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is Dante and Beatrice by the English painter Henry Holiday who was born in London in 1839. Holiday was a landscape painter as well as a stained glass designer, sculptor and illustrator. At his death he was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite.

The painting, completed in 1884, was considered to be one Henry Holiday’s most important painting. The theme of the painting is based on the medieval poet Dante Alighieri’s work La Vita Nuova. Dante concealed his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted by other women. The scene depicted in the painting is that of Beatrice refusing to greet Dante because of the gossip that had reached her. Beatrice is the woman dressed in white and she was modelled by Eleanor Butcher. The woman next to Beatrice is Monna Vanna, a companion of Beatrice and the mistress of Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti. Monna Vanna was modelled by Milly Hughes. Whilst Beatrice looks stern and statuesque ignoring the presence of Dante, Monna Vanna, in contrast, looks back at Dante so as to judge his reaction to Beatrice’s behaviour.

Holiday paid much attention to detail, so much so, he visited Florence in order to carry out research for the painting and describes what his findings were in a letter:

“…..I wanted to get on the spot and see the general lie of the lines – the perspective in fact, of the buildings and still more the sense of colour, and as far as possible to collect such fragments, as remain of buildings of Dante’s time, so as to be able to alter the details to the character of the period… . “

He set the scene of the painting at the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking towards the Ponte Vecchio under which flows the River Arno.

Adam's website

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