This bust of a young woman named Beatrice, in medieval dress, may represent Beatrice Portinari of Florence (died 1290). She was described in 'La Vita Nuova', a book of verse by the Florentine medieval poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). Dante fell in love with Beatrice, but describes just two brief meetings with her in his writings. At the first he was just nine years old and she was eight. At the second meeting, she greeted him as she passed him in a street in Florence, dressed in white and accompanied by two older women. Beatrice married the banker Simone dei Bardi in 1287 and died just three years later at the age of 24. She was described by Dante as ‘my beautitude, the destroyer of all vices and the queen of virtue’.
Works of art relating to Italian Renaissance subjects, like this example, were encountered by many English travellers on the Grand Tour and such subjects became popular themes amongst British art collectors. Dante’s 'La Vita Nuova' was translated into English by the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and Beatrice featured in several works by Rossetti of the 1850s.
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