Leonardo Frigo’s « Dante’s Inferno »

Dante’s infer­no has always inspi­red me sin­ce I was a child, I can pro­ba­bly say that it taught me to ima­gi­ne and dream.

About the Art

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence to Alighiero di Bellincione and Bella degli Abati bet­ween May and June 1265 under the sign of Gemini (« when I fir­st felt the Tuscan air » as he him­self sta­tes in Paradise XII, 112 – 117). He was bap­ti­sed with the name of Durante, of which Dante is a dimi­nu­ti­ve, on March 26th, 1266, the day of Holy Saturday. On that par­ti­cu­lar day in Florence it was custo­ma­ry to bap­ti­se at the bap­ti­ste­ry of San Giovanni all the chil­dren born during the last year. Alighiero also had ano­ther wife, Lapa of Chiarissimo Cialuffi, with whom he had two other chil­dren, Francesco and Gaetana.

In 1285 Dante mar­ried Gemma of Manetto Donati and he had three sons from her and (perhaps) a daughter: Giovanni, Iacopo, Pietro and Antonia. The lat­ter pro­ba­bly beca­me a nun and took the name of Sister Beatrice. In 1289 he par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the bat­tle of Campaldino, in which the Florentines defea­ted the Aretini, and in the stor­ming of Caprona. In 1295 his poli­ti­cal career began with the enrol­ment in the Arte de Medici e Speziali, one of the seven guilds of arts and craf­ts that con­tri­bu­ted to the eco­no­mic deve­lo­p­ment of Florence in the Middle Ages. He was a mem­ber of the coun­cil of the Hundred and was final­ly elec­ted prior from June 15th to August 15th, 1300.

Pope Boniface VIII, when the impe­rial seat was vacant, he tried to inter­fe­re in the poli­ti­cal affairs of Florence to extend his domi­nion over the who­le Tuscany. Furthermore, the discre­pan­cies bet­ween the lan­ded ari­sto­cra­cy and the power­ful mer­chant class led to the split­ting of the Guelphs into two fac­tions, White and Black, hea­ded, respec­ti­ve­ly, by the Cerchi and the Donati fami­lies. The Black Guelphs favou­red papal ambi­tions whi­le the Whites defen­ded the inde­pen­den­ce of their city at all costs. During the prio­ry, Dante sent the lea­ders of the two fac­tions into exi­le. The pro­vi­sion, howe­ver, it didn’t help becau­se it resul­ted in an increa­se in exa­spe­ra­tion bet­ween the two par­ties. It was in this hea­ted con­text that Dante cho­se to take the side of the Whites. Boniface VIII sent Carlo of Valois to Florence to calm the con­flic­ts bet­ween the two fac­tions. He, at his fir­st chan­ce, exi­led the White Guelphs from the city in 1301.

In 1302 Dante was sen­ten­ced to pay a fine of 5000 flo­rins as he was unju­stly accu­sed of fraud and to prac­ti­se bar­ra­try. Dante didn’t pay the fine and so he was sen­ten­ced to the sta­ke. Therefore, he was for­ced to go into exi­le to avoid con­vic­tion. The poet was invol­ved in the fir­st attemp­ts of the Whites to regain con­trol of Florence, but they were all in vain. After a long wan­de­ring in search of asy­lum throu­ghout Italy, he arri­ved in Ravenna in 1318 and set­tled at the court of Guido of Polenta. Here he died in September 1321 and was buried in the Franciscan church that they remai­ned, in his eyes, the pure­st expres­sion of the Christian cler­gy. Many years later, in 1780, the car­di­nal lega­te Luigi Valenti Gonzaga erec­ted a neo­clas­si­cal sepul­chre for the poet, desi­gned by the Ravenna archi­tect Camillo Morigia, to resto­re nobi­li­ty and deco­rum to his burial.