Bust of Dante Alighieri

Near the intersection of Vista Avenue and Central Avenue on Belle Isle

Born in Florence about 1265, Dante Alighieri became one of the world’s most accomplished and popular poets.   His father held a white-collar job as a notary.  Dante was, presumably, educated in a school in Florence run by scholars from Sicily.  By the time he reached his twenties, there was an effort to establish a democracy in the increasingly prosperous city-state of Florence.  Dante engaged in those political deliberations that became extremely bitter.  About 1302, he was exiled from Florence and, by 1317, he had settled in Ravenna.

While in his twenties, and perhaps earlier, Dante began to write poetry.   It was to the world’s benefit that he became disenchanted with politics and gave up a career in that field.  His works rank with those of Aeschylus, Homer, Shakespeare and Sophocles.  He completed his major work, La Grande Commedia, also known as Divina and, in English, as The Divine Comedy in about 1318.  He is the father of Italian literature since his poetry was the first serious work written in that language.  Indeed, almost 700 years after he completed The Divine Comedy, it remains the most important work of Italian literature.  Previously, Latin had been used by writers in the Italian peninsula.  Many significant writers who followed, including Chaucer, credited Dante for his tremendous contributions.   He died in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. 

Apparently, Italians in Detroit in the early Twentieth Century wished to commemorate their heritage.  Knowing that 1921 would be the 600th anniversary of the death of Dante, they commissioned a famous Florentine sculptor, Raffaello Romanelli, to carve a bust of Dante.  Romanelli came from a family of Italian sculptors.  Indeed, his father had studied with Bartolini.  I do not know how much is known with certainty about the physical appearance of Dante.  Apparently, his image has been carved in stone for centuries in Italy and elsewhere.  Romanelli’s bust shows a strong, even severe, Dante staring at the mainland from Belle Isle.

There are a moderate number of elegant Romanelli works depicting important figures throughout Europe and a few in the United States.  In Kansas City, there is a Romanelli Gardens area centered on a marvelous bronze fountain that he designed.  I believe that Garden contains four or five Romanelli sculptures and, perhaps, several others carved by his students in his shop.

Sculptor: Raefello Romanelli
Date of installation: 1927
Material: marble
Use in 2011: Public
Picture: Ren Farley
Description updated: December, 2011


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