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Dante: The Invention of Celebrity

17 September 2021 to 09 January 2022

Dante and the Invention of Celebrity at the Ashmolean Museum Oxford

About Dante: The Invention of Celebrity

Personality cults; style icons; reality TV: these staples of our modern world have an origin.

They can all be traced to the Divine Comedy, in which Dante (1265–1321) exposed the hollowness and hypocrisy of worldly reputation and power, and where for the first time, the lives of ordinary people were dramatised on a world stage, with full exposure of their failings.

And by writing a bestseller, Dante himself acquired the status of an icon. For the very first time, an individual of no particular status became an international poster-boy for justice, liberty, and love.

On the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, this exhibition explores Dante’s influence on art and culture from his own time right up to the present.

It includes works by Botticelli, William Blake, Salvador Dali and Tom Phillips RA, and new work by the world’s first AI artist, Ai-Da. It coincides with a display at the Bodleian Library of precious early editions of Dante’s most famous work.

Admission is FREE, but a free Museum ticket is required​​​​​

Gallery

Head of Dante, after Raphael Black chalk on yellowish paper, c.1800-30 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Head of Dante, after Raphael
Black chalk on yellowish paper, c.1800-30
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
The image of Dante that has endured was established by Raphael around 1510. The daunting expression recalls biblical prophets and classical philosophers. In frescoes in the Vatican Palace in Rome, Dante appears both among the Muses (of poetry, music and the other arts) and conversing with theologians about the birth of Christ. Visitors frequently copied the striking head, as in this anonymous version. (Possibly by a follower of Thomas Lawrence)
‘Death-mask’ of Dante, Plaster, 19th-century, © Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
‘Death-mask’ of Dante
Plaster, 19th-century
© Bodleian Library, University of Oxfor
Growing interest in the poet gave rise to the creation of a plaster ‘mask’ of Dante. In truth there was no death-mask; the mould was probably taken from a (now lost) 15th-century carving on the tomb of Dante at Ravenna. It was acquired by Seymour Kirkup, an eccentric Englishman and Dante-enthusiast living in Florence. Kirkup distributed several copies, including this one, donated in 1879 to the Oxford Dante Society.
‘Dante in Oxford‘ Max Beerbohm Digital graphic taken from his The Poet’s Corner, 1904 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
‘Dante in Oxford‘
Max Beerbohm
Digital graphic taken from his The Poet’s Corner, 1904
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
The Sowers of Discord Gustave Doré Engraving, 1866 © Private Collection
The Sowers of Discord
Gustave Doré
Engraving, 1866
© Private Collection
Those who incited hatred and war in life are in Hell, torn apart for eternity. The figure carrying his separated head like a lantern is Bertrand de Born, a troubadour poet who urged the sons of King Henry II of England to rebel against their father. Gustave Doré’s often reproduced engravings have influenced generations of readers of the Comedy. His theatrical staging, and the psychological drama of his lighting, show deep engagement with the poem.
Dante and Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise Monika Beisner Prints after originals in egg tempera on paper, 2001 © the artist
Dante and Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise
Monika Beisner
Prints after originals in egg tempera on paper, 2001
© the artist
Inspired by medieval book illumination, Monika Beisner created a series of intense images for an edition of the Comedy. Spatially flattened and rich in colour, the pictures are at once faithful responses to Dante’s descriptions and powerful reflections on the poem in their own right. The effects were achieved using brushes of just a few hairs.
The Fraudsters Rachel Owen Photographic print of mixed-media collage, 2010-16 Bodleian Libraries © Estate of Rachel Owen
The Fraudsters
Rachel Owen
Photographic print of mixed-media collage, 2010-16
Bodleian Libraries
© Estate of Rachel Owen
Each flame hides the soul of an ‘evil counsellor’ – someone who has used their intellect for wrongdoing. The double flame in the foreground contains the souls of Ulysses and Diomedes, who’s Trojan horse secured the destruction of Troy. The artist includes herself, seen from behind with a laurel wreath, in the guise of a female Dante. The relationship created between artist and poet aligns the reader and viewer with the character of Dante.

Details

Start:
17 September 2021
End:
09 January
Event Category:
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Venue

Ashmolean Museum
35 Beaumont Street
Oxford, OX1 2PH United Kingdom
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Phone:
01865 278000
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