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Dante Alighieri

period author’s medieval influence

The life and works of the great Italian (Florentine) poet Dante (1265–1321) were of profound influence on the late medieval and Renaissance period. His involvement with contemporary politics and religious matters, his championing of the use of the vernacular, and his many works (poetry, treatises on literature and politics, and letters) earned him enormous fame and lasting influence.


His major work, the Commedia (which he completed, after several decades of work, shortly before his death in 1321) is a trilogy divided into nearly equal parts: the Inferno, Purgatorio , and Paradiso . Each part consists of thirty-three cantos (sections), which, along with the introductory canto, total one hundred; this numerical symbolism reflects perfection, the tri-part unity of the *Trinity. The story is framed in the author’s personal journey through *hell, purgatory, and *heaven, guided (in succession) by the ancient poet Virgil, the author’s beloved Beatrice, and Saint *Bernard of Clairvaux. The compelling detail and powerful symbolism provided immediate inspiration for visual artists; lavishly illustrated (as well as many less elegant) manuscript copies were produced from the mid-fourteenth century onward. Dante’s descriptions of the structures of heaven and hell, the torments of sinners and rewards of the blessed, influenced many artistic compositions of the later medieval period


Dante himself is frequently depicted in frontispieces and illustrations throughout the Commedia; he may be shown wearing a laurel crown, as a witness or bystander, or holding a book

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