Domenico di Michelino was an Italian painter who was born and died in Florence (1417–1491). His most famous work, La commedia illumina Firenze (The Comedy Illuminating Florence), can be found in Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Robert Langdon, the main character in Dan Brown’s Inferno, describes this famous painting during the conference “Divine Dante: Symbols of Hell,” hosted by the Società Dante Alighieri Vienna.
Domenico di Michelino’s biography
Domenico di Francesco borrowed the name Michelino from his teacher, a bone and ivory carver.
His first documented work is a processional banner for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, which commissioned him between 1440 and 1446. It depicts the innocent under the mantle of the Virgin Mary. By 1500 the painting had been tampered with to such an extent that its original figures became virtually unreadable.
He was elected to the Compagnia di San Luca, a guild of painters and miniaturists, in 1442, and joined the Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali, one of the seven major guilds of the corporations of arts and crafts in Florence, on October 26, 1444.
In 1448 he is remembered for his painting of two angels, first modeled in terracotta by the Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia, for the Duomo of Florence.
A year later (1459) he received payment from the Florentine painter Lorenzo Pucci for a processional banner on behalf of a confraternity based in San Francesco, Cortona.
In these years Domenico di Michelino was also deepening the knowledge of the art of the Italian painter Filippo Lippi, who had an influence on his way to painting.
Four years later he was paid to represent figures of saints for a cupboard belonging to the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Purificazione e di San Zanobi, a Florentine confraternity to which he belonged since 1445.
Michelino predominantly painted scenes from the Bible. However, his most famous work is the painting in the Florence Cathedral, La commedia illumina Firenze, also known as Dante and his World, painted in 1456, the same year in which he married Marsilia, sister of the miniaturist Domenico di Guido, with whom he had two sons.
His last works dates to 1484: two images of St. Luke for the banner of the guild Arte dei Giudici e dei Notai.
Domenico di Michelino died in April and was buried in the church of Sant’Ambrogio, Florence.
The painting La commedia illumina Firenze: its meaning
La commedia illumina Firenze (The Comedy Illuminating Florence) is the most famous fresco by Domenico di Michelino, located on the west wall of the Duomo in Florence, which used to bear another work of a similar subject.
The painting was commissioned to Michelino by the workers of Santa Maria del Fiore, who wanted a portrait celebrating the poet Dante.
In a mere five months the painting was finished and the clients were very satisfied.
Until the last century, the Comedy Illuminating Florence was attributed to Mariotto di Nardo, grandson of the most famous Italian painter known as Orcagna, until the contract signed between the workers of Santa Maria del Fiore and Domenico di Michelino was finally discovered.
The canvas is divided, like the Commedia, into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
Dante is placed in the center wearing a red robe and with the cap of the Florentines and a wreath of laurel on his head, and holding a volume of his poem La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy). With his right hand he points to a procession of sinners being led down through the nine circles of Hell. Behind him in the center are the seven levels of the Mount of Purgatory, with Adam and Eve at the top standing in and representing the Earthly Paradise. Above them, the sun and moon and seven planets represent the Heavenly Paradise, while on the right is Dante’s home city of Florence, which is being illuminated by rays emanating from his poem, hence the title The Comedy Illuminating Florence.
Michelino’s view of Florence displays, behind the city walls, the recently completed Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Campanile or bell tower designed by Giotto, the Baptistery (where Dante was baptized), the Bargello, and the Tower of Palazzo Vecchio.
At the foot of the painting, drawn in two lines, is an inscription of praise by a mysterious author.
Nobody before Michelino had ever represented Dante, Florence, and the Inferno in the same canvas. This painting shows the great reverence that the Florentines had for their poet Dante Alighieri after his death.
Picture by www.atlantedellarteitaliana.it