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Dante and Beatrice

Henry Holiday1882/1884

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Liverpool, United Kingdom

Dante’s autobiographical ‘Vita Nuova’ (new life) recounts the progress of his intense but mystical love for Beatrice Portinari. On one occasion due to a misunderstanding Beatrice refused to acknowledge the great Italian medieval poet when they met by chance in the street. In this painting Beatrice, in the centre of the group of three women, looks away from Dante. The artist has drawn a sharp distinction in character, dress and attitude between the extrovert Monna Vanna, Beatrice’s friend on her right, and Beatrice herself, who looks intently forward. Indeed Holiday has reduced this fateful anti-climax in Dante’s great other worldly love story to the level of a social anecdote. We can admire the artist’s rendering of the costumes, buildings and streets of 13th-century Florence, but of the shattering denial which reduced Dante to despair, we feel nothing. The pigeons were painted by J T Nettleship.

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  • Title: Dante and Beatrice
  • Creator: Henry Holiday
  • Date Created: 1882/1884
  • tag / style: Henry Hoilday; Dante; Beatrice Portinari; Florence; Pre-Raphaelite; medieval; Vita Nuova; Monna Vanna; pigeon; J T Nettleship; Victorian; bridge; Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: w2032 x h2032 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: Henry Holiday was a painter as well as an established stained glass artist who had commissions both in England and America. He was also an illustrator, his most important illustrations being the ones he made for Lewis Carroll's book 'The Hunting of the Snark'. Holiday was the youngest student of painting at the Royal Academy Schools in 1855. Like many of the young artists of his time Holiday was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Early in his career he was praised by the painter Millais (1829-1898) and was in contact with artists such as Holman Hunt (1827-90), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Holiday also knew the critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) who encouraged the young painter. In 1862 Holiday's career as a stained glass artist was launched when he succeeded the artist Edward Burne-Jones as the designer for the glass manufacturing company Messrs. Powell and Sons. Edward Burne-Jones had moved to William Morris's company. The painter Albert Moore (1841-1893) had recommended Holiday as an efficient draughtsman. On his first visit to Italy, in 1867, Holiday was inspired by the way Renaissance artists broke new ground from Gothic art and reflected their times. In his paper 'Modernism in Art', which Holiday read to the Architectural Association in 1890, Holiday asserted: 'all great art is modern when it is produced' and 'no art is genuine which is not modern in the sense of expressing the best of which the artist and his age are capable'. Later on, in 1891, Holiday became dissatisfied with the working methods of the commercial stained glass firms and set off to establish his own workshop in Hampstead in London.
  • Additional artwork information: This painting was the subject of an ‘Artwork Highlight’ talk at the Walker Art Gallery in 2000. To read the notes from this talk please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=2&id=152
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased from the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1884

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