In 2019, museums around the world celebrated the anniversary of Old Masters Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. Now, it’s Dante’s turn and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has kicked off the year with an online exhibition of works in celebration. In total, 88 rarely seen 16th-century illustrations of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy created by Italian Renaissance artist Federico Zuccari are on view marking the 700th anniversary of the medieval Italian poet, writer, and philosopher.
Completed just a year before Dante passed away in 1321, The Divine Comedy has long been considered one of the greatest works of literature that also greatly developed the Italian language. It’s written as a narrative poem that is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, each representing a different portion of the afterlife.
It would be another 265 years before Zuccari produced his drawings (executed between 1586 and 1588), but they’re one of many examples of the lasting effects Dante’s work has had on readers. Zuccari was in Spain when he completed the drawings, comprised of 28 depictions of hell (Inferno), 49 of purgatory (purgatorio), and 11 of heaven (paradiso), all of which are on view through the Uffizi. The drawings were originally bound together as a book with Dante’s verses accompanying Zuccari’s work.
The 88 Zuccari artworks entered the Uffizi’s collection in 1738 after having belonged to the Orsini family and then the Medici family, both of which were powerful noble Italian families. The drawings are quite fragile, so over the years, only portions of the collection have gone on view at two different times making this is the first time all of them will be seen together. In 1865, some of the pencil and ink drawings were shown in Florence in celebration of the 600th anniversary of Dante’s death and the unification of Italy. Then, in 1993, an exhibition of selected works from the collection was held in Abruzzo. Otherwise, the drawings are kept in temperature-controlled, light-free stores and can only be removed every five years.
“Until now these beautiful drawings have only been seen by a few scholars and displayed to the public only twice, and only in part,” said Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi, according to The Guardian. Schmidt continued referring to the drawings as “precious material” that are “not only for those who do research but also for those who are passionate about Dante’s work and are interested in following, as Alighieri says, ‘virtue and knowledge.’”
All of the Zuccari drawings can be found online at the Uffizi website for free in an exhibition called “To rebehold the stars,” a nod to Inferno, Canto XXXIV in Dante’s masterpiece. Currently, descriptions are only in Italian but English transcripts are expected soon according to the Uffizi website.
Over the coming year, more than 70 towns and villages across Italy have plans to celebrate the Master Poet.