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Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), Allegorical Portrait of Dante, 1532-1533. Oil on canvas, 51 x 53 in. (130 x 136 cm) Private collection, Florence.

NEW YORK, NY.- On the occasion of the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri's birth (1265-1321), the Italian Cultural Institute wishes to honor Italy's greatest poet by presenting, for the first time in the United States, Dante's Portrait, a masterpiece by mid-16th-century painter Bronzino; and by holding a continuous reading of the Divine Comedy's first Cantica, the Inferno. 

American-Italian actor, writer and director John Turturro will open the night, by reading the first Canto. 

The Italian Cultural Institute wishes to celebrate Dante not only as the father of the Italian language and literature but also as the writer who ceaselessly pursued knowledge of what it is to be human. 

To stress Dante's universal appeal, the 34 cantos narrating his journey through hell will be read by 34 different readers, 17 in the Italian and 17 in translation, each in a different language. 

"When I was appointed Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, I felt it was necessary to bring something that represented the best of my country and also of Florence, my city. At the Uffizi Gallery I saw Dante's portrait painted by Bronzino, and I thought there was no better way of remembering the Sommo Poeta's 750th birth anniversary, as well as presenting this extraordinary work of art to New York, where Italian culture is so much loved and appreciated". Giorgio Van Straten, Director. 

According to Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568), around 1532, the Florentine merchant and banker Bartolomeo Bettini commissioned Agnolo Bronzino to paint the portraits of poets who sang about love in the Tuscan vernacular, as part of the decoration of a camera (room) in his Florentine residence, where the celebrated Venus and Cupid painted by Jacopo Pontormo, based on Michelangelo's cartoon, was to be placed. Bronzino's tribute to Dante, in a robe and crowned with a laurel wreath, celebrates the love for poetry, and alludes to the defense of the Tuscan vernacular as the language of Italy in the debates of contemporary erudite circles in which the artist - a poet himself and an ardent admirer and scholar of Dante- held a privileged place. 

Bronzino focused the viewer's attention on Dante's famous face seen in profile, which displays his notable aquiline nose and prominent chin. The poet's powerful figure is portrayed in a perspective as if seen from below; his statue-like posture echoes Michelangelo's marble sculptures. The Mount of Purgatory is carefully represented in the background, and Dante holds a copy of the Divine Comedy open to Canto XXV of Paradise. There, the poet expresses his longing for his city and his desire of returning from exile, a desire which, both, Michelangelo and Bettini, fervent champions of the Florentine Republic against the tyranny of the new duke Alessandro de' Medici, must have shared.