Do artists and writers have to die to get attention? Recall that the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who died in exile, was exiled. Today, 700 years after his death, his country honors him with a national holiday called Dante Day.
Dante, best known for his narrative poem The Divine Comedy, waxed lyrical about life after death, in heaven and hell. And oddly enough, his real afterlife is also active, filled with Italian national treasures. To explain this belated tribute, Art Daily quotes Italian President Sergio Mattarella speaking of the poet’s enduring relevance and the universality of the Divine Comedy.
The poem speaks to us because it speaks to us, he said.
Dante’s Day is an official holiday and is celebrated every year on the 25th. March, the year the Divine Comedy was written in 1300. As Dario Franceschini, Minister of Culture, told Italy Magazine: It will be a day to remember the genius of Dante. On that day, students and teachers from across the country will read his work.
As part of the celebration, Roberto Benigni, star of the 1997 Oscar-winning film Life is Beautiful, quoted part of Canto 25 of The Divine Comedy, in which Dante hopes his work will overcome the cruelty of exile. Apparently, he got his wish. The title of the magazine Italy tells the story: Italy establishes a national Dante Day.
It could be said that Italy’s reconciliation with Dante began 12 years ago, when the city of Florence, his birthplace, formally apologized for his exile 700 years earlier.
Although Dante was never disowned, there have been artists in history who went unnoticed during his lifetime and became lions after his death. I am reminded of Johannes Vermeer, widely known for his painting The girl with the pearl earring from 1665, and his special talent to catch light with transparent layers of paint that let the underlying tints shine through. The process gives life to the light.
Talk about relevance: Cinematographer Colin Watkins shot The Handmaid’s Tale in 1990 the way director Reed Moran intended – in the spirit of Vermeer – with the gossamer wit of The Woman Reading the Letter. Vermeer was an excellent recommendation, Moran told reporters.
In 2003, Vermeer was also used as a reference for Tracy Rose Chevalier’s novel, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, based on Vermeer’s painting of the same name.
The film was also adapted from Chevalier’s book in 2003. Scarlett Johansson played the role of the girl in the picture.
Why is it taking so long?
Yet Vermeer remained unknown to art historians throughout his life. Outside the city of Delft, where he lived and worked, nobody had heard of him, because he hardly made any living portraits. It was not until the mid-19th century that the French critic Théophile Thore-Burger began to notice his work. The rest is history. But one wonders why it took Italy so long to notice.
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