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Beata Beatrix


  "Open your eyes, look straight into my face!
  Such things have you been witness to that now
  you have the power to endure my smile."

          (Beatrice to Dante, Paradiso XXIII, 46–48, trans. Musa)
Beatrice, from the frontispiece to Vita nuova di
Dante Alighieri
(Livorno: Paolo Vannini, 1843).
CUL 742:1.c.80.7 [item not on display]


The "reality" of Beatrice has been much debated. Boccaccio identified her as the daughter of Folco Portinari, who married Simone dei Bardi, a member of a Florentine banking family. In the Vita nova Dante tells us of the first time he saw Beatrice, aged eight and dressed in crimson, when he was almost nine years old. She died in 1290, when she was just twenty-four. As well as appearing in the Vita nova and guiding Dante through Paradise in the Commedia, she is mentioned briefly in the Convivio, where Dante says that Beatrice lives in Heaven with the angels and on Earth with his soul.

The nineteenth century saw widespread interest in the Dante and Beatrice of the Vita nova. A number of translations were made, including one by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood often painted medieval subjects, frequently taken from Dante, and Beatrice featured in several paintings by Rossetti.

Flaxman's illustration of Beatrice   Beatrice and Dante
Flaxman's illustration of Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise ([Rome], 1802). LA(108)   Detail of Beatrice and Dante from the beginning of Paradiso. CUL MS Gg.3.6