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Visions of Dante


Visions of Dante

September 14–December 19, 2021
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

In 1892, as Willard Fiske, Cornell University’s first librarian, was restoring a villa near Florence, he impulsively purchased a 1536 edition of the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and had it sent directly to Cornell—bookworms and all. Within a few years, the Fiske Dante Collection had grown to become one of the most significant such collections in the United States.

Visions of Dante is timed to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of this Florentine poet and artistic touchstone. This exhibition of approximately 100 works in various media will explore the intensely visual nature of the Divine Comedy, presenting it as an inexhaustible source for artists, furthering Dante scholarship, and providing access for diverse learners to Dante’s concepts and themes.

Early printed editions will introduce Dante as visual poet and show initial solutions to the challenge of illustrating the poem; they will also serve as a reference point for the persistence of the Divine Comedy as muse through a range of later illustrated editions and portfolios by Giani, Flaxman, Blake, Doré, Dalí, and others. Library holdings will be accompanied by works on paper, paintings, photographs, sculpture, and film by artists who treat Dante’s universal themes as catalysts for their own explorations of contemporary culture, mores, and self.

Exhibition programming and accompaniments will include a study day at Cornell with invited speakers. An exhibition website, developed by the Cornell Library, will present full catalogue entries for each work and extend the exhibition’s reach by incorporating multiple book openings and archival documents, as well as recorded talks and presentations.

Visions of Dante is part of a broader Central New York Humanities Corridor collaboration with the University of Rochester around their project Dante Alighieri in Poppi 1321–2021, spearheaded by Alessandra Baroni Vannucci of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno di Firenze and visiting faculty member with Rochester’s Arezzo study abroad program. This three-week undergraduate research seminar (planned for June 2022) will be held in Poppi, near Arezzo, and will result in its own related exhibition at the Robbins Library.

Visions of Dante at the Johnson Museum of Art is co-curated by Dr. Andrew C. Weislogel, the Johnson’s Seymour R. Askin, Jr. ’47 Curator of Earlier European and American Art, and Dr. Laurent Ferri, Curator of Pre-1800 Collections in Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. The exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Stephen ’58 MBA ’59 and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund.

View the online exhibition

First image: Attributed to Giovanni Britto. German, ca. 1500–after 1550, active in Venice. Inferno, Canto 20. The Circle of Soothsayers in La comedia di Dante Alighieri con la nova Espositione di Alessandro Vellutello… Venice, 1544.

Second image: Kara Walker (American, born 1969). Dante (Free from the Burden of Gender or Race), 2017. Oil stick and sumi ink on paper collaged on linen. © Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.