Engraving of two men looking down at steaming ground, in the back ground there are feet sticking up from the earth.

Imagining Dante: Illustrated editions of the ‘Divine Comedy’

1 November 2021 to 28 January 2022 | Turnbull Gallery, Level 1
Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm | Saturday, 9am to 1pm

‘Imagining Dante’ showcases some of the illustrated editions of the Divine Comedy held by the Alexander Turnbull Library from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries.

Commemorating Italian poet Dante Alighieri

2021 commemorates the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).

His masterpiece, La Commedia, later known as La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), recounts in vernacular Italian his visionary and allegorical journey through the afterlife: From the subterranean circles of Hell (Inferno), up the mountain of Purgatory (Purgatorio), and ultimately into the celestial realm of Paradise (Paradiso).

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Inferno, Canto I, lines 1 to 3

Dante from a fresco by Luca Signorelli in the duomo at Orvieto. Copied by E Kaiser. Chromolithographed by Wilhelm Greve, Berlin. London Arundel Society 1887. Ref: G-595. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Painting of a man looking at a book. He is wearing a hat with a leaf on it.

Illustrated editions of the Divine Comedy

Such is the potency of the Divine Comedy's language and imagery that it has fuelled the imaginations of artists from Dante's time to our own. To mark the occasion of this momentous anniversary, ‘Imagining Dante’ showcases some of the illustrated editions of the Divine Comedy held by the Alexander Turnbull Library from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries.

The printed material is complemented by a late 19th-century chromolithographic portrait of Dante copied from a fresco by the Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli (c. 1450–1523).


Feature image at top of page: Detail from The Vision of Hell by Dante Alighieri: translated by Henry Francis Cary, and illustrated with the designs of M. Gustave Doré. London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1866 Ref: G sf851 DAN 1866. Alexander Turnbull Library.