Translating Dante

Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Museum as Paradiso

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

Isabella Stewart Gardner’s museum (Fenway Court) owes its distinctive character to the influence of Dante Alighieri. Gardner’s interest in the Italian poet originated in a context of late nineteenth-century Boston’s enthusiasm for his writing and her personal quest for a meaningful life’s work. As a student of Charles Eliot Norton, a member of the Cambridge Dante Society, and a collector of rare editions of The Divine Comedy, Gardner became apprised of issues surrounding literary translation. When she began to study visual images inspired by Dante’s poetry and to acquire European masterpieces, she was poised to conceive a variation on this practice. As a visual translation of Paradiso, Fenway Court was not an illustration of a classic text but rather a conversion of a spiritual idea of love and beauty from one art form to another. In creating a museum for public education and enjoyment, Gardner exemplified Dante’s moral concept of free will and evoked his poetic vision of heavenly beauty.

Translating Dante

Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Museum as Paradiso

in Religion and the Arts

Sections

Figures

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    Figure 1

    John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Oil on canvas, 190 × 80 cm (74 13/16″ × 31 ½″). Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (P30w1).

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    Figure 2

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Love’s Greeting, ca. 1861. Oil on panel, 57 × 61 cm (22 7/16″ × 24″.) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (P1w8).

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    Figure 3

    Courtyard, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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    Figure 4

    Veronese Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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    Figure 5

    Fra Angelico, The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin, 1430–1434. Tempera on panel, 61.8 × 38.3 cm (24 5/16″ × 15 1/16″). Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (P15w34).

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    Figure 6

    Dutch Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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    Figure 7

    Titian Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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    Figure 8

    Raphael Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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    Figure 9

    Matteo di Giovanni Civitali, Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, ca. 1480. Polychromed and gilded terracotta, 99 × 103 × 38 cm (39 × 40 9/16″ × 14 15/16″). Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (S27n4).

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    Figure 10

    Dante Case, Long Gallery, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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