Open 17 Sep 2021 – 9 Jan 2022
Admission was free
On the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante (1265–1321), this free exhibition explored the great poet and philosopher's influence on art and culture over the centuries.
Personality cults; style icons; reality TV: these staples of our modern world have an origin. They can all be traced to the Divine Comedy, an epic poem completed around 1320 by Dante Alighieri. In it, Dante exposed the hollowness and hypocrisy of worldly reputation and power, and for the first time the lives of ordinary people were dramatised on a world stage, with full exposure of their characters. And by writing a bestseller, Dante in turn became a celebrity. Dante himself acquired the status of an icon.
On display in the exhibition were than 60 artworks, by iconic artists of the past, including William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Salvador Dalí, and present-day responses to Dante and the Divine Comedy by contemporary artists such as Tom Phillips RA, Geoff MacEwan, Barrie Tullett and Rachel Owen.
The artist-robot Ai-Da has also produced works in response to Dante exclusively for this exhibition, engaging with themes of the Comedy that invite further reflection on what it means to witness the world; the nature of creativity; and the value of human relationships.
Curated by Prof Gervase Rosser, the exhibition coincided with a free display at the Bodleian Library, The Divine Comedy from Manuscript to Manga, which was open until 14 November 2021.
Banner Image: Detail from Dante and Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise, Monika Beisner, 2002 © the artist