Find out all about the fascinating Dante Alighieri death mask and see what Dante really looked like.
Dante is Italy’s most famous poet, author of the Divine Comedy. Recently he’s been the unwitting protagonist of the newly released film “Inferno”. The poet himself doesn’t make an appearance of course, but his death mask does. And the good news is that you can see it yourself, right in the heart of Florence.
Dante Alighieri Death Mask, where is it?
First things first. Dante’s death mask really can be seen in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Palazzo Vecchio is in name and in fact the Old Palace that towers over Piazza Signoria. It has been the seat of Florentine government for centuries, and today it’s a museum, full of charm and surprises.
One of these surprises is Dante’s death mask, quietly guarded in a small glass display case. It stands in a hallway that leads from Eleonora’s rooms to the Hall of Priors, on the second floor. It’s not as heavily protected as the film makes out, and in reality quite easy to steal, not that we recommend you try.
But spoiler alert: the mask isn’t authentic. Meaning that it wasn’t made from the face of the deceased Dante.
Why and when was it done?
The death mask tradition is as ancient as the human race. And to be more specific, at the end of the Middle Ages it became common to get a cast of a dead person’s face to preserve their memory. The masks were used as models for sculptures, and kept in museums or libraries.
At one time there were twenty masks of Dante’s face, but none of those still existing today can be identified as authentic. The mask in Palazzo Vecchio was most probably done from a sculpture that used to be on his tomb in Ravenna, sometime in the 15th century. It’s the most famous of all, and never ceases to fascinate scholars and fans.
What did Dante Alighieri look like? Portraits in Florence
Although he never met him in person, his fellow poet Boccaccio described Dante as being of small stature, with an aquiline nose, big eyes and a narrow face. He went on to say he had olive skin and thick, black hair with a face that was at once melancholy and pensive.
If you want to meet a young Dante, the best place to go is the Bargello. The most ancient and credible of all Dante’s portraits, is done by the Giotto school and can be found in the Maddalena Chapel of this wonderful Medieval building. Unfortunately the fresco isn’t in great condition, but you can still make out a young and serene Dante, depicted just before his exile from Florence. Many other portraits took this as an example.
One of his most famous and captivating portraits is inside the Duomo. The poet is standing between the city of Florence and a representation of his Divine Comedy. You’ll see the Gate of Hell on the left and the mountain of Purgatory behind him. Above his head are the skies of Paradise.
One last thing. In case you’re wondering about Botticelli’s map of Hell that also appears in the story, it does exist. You’ll find it at the Vatican Museum in Rome.
If you want to know more about Palazzo Vecchio as featured in “Inferno”, check out our post about the ‘Secret Passages Tour‘. There’re also special ‘Inferno Tours’ organised at Palazzo Vecchio.