I am currently writing a book under lockdown on Dante and the Art of Divine Light, for the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death in 2021. This will look at the visual legacy of Dante, particularly the Paradiso, and the challenge he set painters in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, in which actual gilding was not generally used to distinguish of divine from natural light. I will be discussing Dante’s own use of Mediaeval optics. A chapter will focus on selected manuscript editions with illuminations.
A succession of major artists grappled with the portrayal of divine light in emulation of Dante’s account of its blinding intensity and failure to obey optical rules. In the Renaissance the painters include Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Bellini, Botticelli, Signorelli, Michelangelo, Titian, Grünewald and Raphael (who emerges the hero of the book).
I then look at the 17th century (prefaced by Correggio’s 16th-century domes), most notably at the great light-filled church decorations by Baroque artists and the series of major vault and dome frescoes by Pietro da Cortona, Gauli, Pozzo et al. Spanning the 15th-17th centuries are the extraordinry theatrical apparatuses that presented what were called paradisi, massive aerial structures representing the heavens. These magnificent spectacles went to enormous and dangerous trouble to use light as central feature of their sacred dramas.
I finish with a look at the notion of the ineffable – the unknowable and unseeable – in Dante in relation to the modern physics of light.
I am looking for a publisher!