Dantis Amor

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1859-1860, 1865


Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Watts, [Tate 1997] 135-136.

◦ Ainsworth, “D. G. Rossetti's ‘Dantis Amor’,” 69-78.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 86-89.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 1, 73-74.

The Pre-Raphaelites [Tate 1984], 179-180.

◦ Weninger, “Symbol and Thing in Rossetti's Dantis Amor” (1999), 5-16.

Scholarly Commentary


The work known under this title was originally planned to be the central panel of a triptych that was to adorn a cabinet belonging to William Morris. The flanking panels depicted (on the left) Dante's meeting with Beatrice in Florence, recorded in the Vita Nuova chapter 3, and (on the right) Dante's meeting with Beatrice recorded in the Purgatorio Canto XXX. The central panel was not completed, however, although DGR did finish a pen and ink drawing in which all the elements of the original conception are depicted. This drawing is now in the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery. The unfinished oil on panel is in the Tate Gallery, and there is a pencil study on the verso of the unfinished watercolor of The Gate of Memory.

The work is completely symbolic. The central figure is Love who is holding a sundial. In the finished drawing this figure wears a pilgrim's hat, an accoutrement that recalls Dante's preoccupation with the idea of the pilgrim (see especially the Vita Nuova chapters 40-41). He stands against a hieratic background divided along a diagonal running from upper right to lower left. In the upper left quadrant is the head of Christ, figured as the sun, looking down across a heavily stylized field of sun rays that emanate from the circle containing his head. His gaze is directed toward the figure of Beatrice, whose face is inscibed in a crescent moon in the lower right quadrant against a background of stars.

The picture is a symbolistic representation of the death of Beatrice and the meaning of that death. As the central panel of the projected triptych, that death stood “between” the two salutations given to Dante by Beatrice. Grieve says that the picture “represents the essential truth of both the Vita Nuova and the Divina Commedia, that Love is the generating force of the universe” (see the 1984 Tate catalogue The Pre-Raphaelites, 179). In his left hand the figure of Love holds a bow and arrow, in his right the sundial which points at the ninth hour, the hour of Christ's and of Beatrice's death alike. Ainsworth says that the work specifically illustrates the Vita Nuova chapter XXVIII, “when the Lord God of justice called my most gracious lady unto Himself” (see Ainsworth, “DGR's ‘Dantis Amor,’” 72).

The work is deeply literary, its most obvious reference point being the last line of Dante's Paradiso (“L'Amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle”. Almost equally important is the Vita Nuova, as the inscription surrounding Christ's head indicates (“qui est per omnia seacula benedictus”); these are the concluding lines of Dante's spiritual autobiography. In its completed form, as the finished drawing at Birmingham shows, Beatrice's head was to have been circled with the immediately preceding words from Dante's autobiography: “quella beata Beatrice che mira continualmente nella faccia di colui.”

The title has a double significance, with the genitive case signalling both Dante's love (for Beatrice, for Love, for God) and Rossetti's (for Dante as the emblem of visionary art, and for Love as idea and experience). DGR's work is a move to re-imagine Dante's love-ideal in a secondary devotional act. As in his various pastiche texts—in this case the reference would be to “Piangendo star con l'anima smarrita”— the picture involves a kind of magical act whose aim is to recover Dante's spiritual values for a more secular world. In DGR's case, art becomes not so much the vehicle of those values as their incarnation.

For further information see the commentary for the Tate Gallery oil.

Production History

DGR went to the Morris's house in Upton in October 1860 to do this picture. The drawing on the back of The Gate of Memory may have been done at that time, though Ainsworth thinks it is a later production (see Ainsworth, “DGR's ‘Dantis Amor,’” 70). The finished drawing dates from 1860 as well. Left unfinished at that time, the oil picture was returned to DGR in 1863 and worked on again. When it was sold to the dealer Gambart in 1865 DGR had it placed in its striking frame.


The text directly related to this picture is Dante's “Sonnet. On the ninth of June 1290”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: s117.raw.xml