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Translating Dante

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Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Museum as Paradiso

image of Religion and the Arts

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.

Affiliations: 1: Bowdoin College


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