The Uffizi Will Show Rarely Seen Sketches From Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ to Commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Poet’s Death

The drawings by Renaissance artist Federico Zuccari have only been shown publicly twice.

Federico Zuccari, Inferno, Canti XXXI-XXXII. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

This year is the 700th since Dante Alighieri died, in 1321, and over the next year, venues across his native Italy have special events planned in commemoration of the anniversary.

For its part, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence didn’t waste any time honoring the medieval poet. On New Year’s Day, the museum launched a free virtual exhibition of rarely-seen drawings inspired by The Divine Comedy, Dante’s three-part, first-person odyssey through heaven, hell, and purgatory, long considered one of the most important literary works of all time.

The 88 illustrations on view now on the museum’s website were completed between 1586 and 1588 by Renaissance artist Federico Zuccari during a stay in Spain. The show marks just the third time a selection of the sketches have been seen publicly, and the first time the collection has been presented in totality.

Federico Zuccari, <i>Inferno, Canti XXXII-XXXIV</i>. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

Federico Zuccari, Inferno, Canti XXXII-XXXIV. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

“The Uffizi Gallery is really proud to open the anniversary of the great poet’s death by making this extraordinary collection of graphic art available to all,” Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi, said in a statement. He described the drawings as “precious material not only for those who do research but also for those who are passionate about Dante’s work and are interested in following, as Alighieri says, ‘virtue and knowledge.’”

Originally collated in a bound volume, each pencil-and-ink sketch appeared opposite the verse it illustrated. Zuccari’s works are accompanied online by their original captions in Italian. (English translations are forthcoming, the site explains.)

An accomplished mannerist painter in his time, Zuccari is today best known for his frescoes on the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Following his death in 1609, the Divine Comedy drawings were owned by the Orsinis, a noble family for which the artist once worked, and then the Medicis. They were acquired by the Uffizi in 1738.

Federico Zuccari, <i>Inferno, Canti XXVI-XXVIII</i>. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

Federico Zuccari, Inferno, Canti XXVI-XXVIII. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

The 600th anniversary of Dante’s birth was the occasion the first time a selection of the illustrations were shown in Florence in 1865. More than a century later, in 1993, they were exhibited again in an exhibition in Abruzzo. Fragile with age, the drawings can only be removed from their light-free, thermoregulated holdings every five years, the museum explained. Until now, many of them “have only been seen by a few scholars,” Schmidt said.

Events planned in memory of Dante will be mounted in more than 70 towns and villages throughout Italy this year. Italian President Sergio Mattarella inaugurated the year-long national celebration this past September with a concert in the city of Ravenna, where Dante is buried.

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