Discovering Dante’s Florence: enriching modern cultural and religious life

Academics: Professor C. Honess and Dr M. Treherne, Faculty of Arts

The University of Leeds has enriched contemporary cultural and religious life by exploring the relationship between Dante’s poetry and the everyday experience of life in late medieval Italy and developing new ways of experiencing Dante’s work.

Research in Dante studies has tended to treat political, religious and intellectual traditions as though they were divorced from the context in which Dante would have known them. Researchers at Leeds have been at the forefront of a new move to explore the connection between the historical context of late medieval Italy, and the poetic form through which Dante engages with that context. Current Leeds work builds on this focus to examine how religious life was experienced in Florence in the 1280s and 1290s, when Dante was likely to have been studying theology in the city.

Boosting the Florentine tourist industry

The historic centre of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by around ten million people every year but until recently late medieval Florence was barely visible in tourist materials, overshadowed as it is by Florence’s later Renaissance art and architecture. Leeds collaborated with UNESCO and the Comune di Firenze to develop new tourist itineraries. Grounded in the research’s close attention to local context, these enable tourists to experience the religious and intellectual sites of Dante’s Florence and encourage visitors to return.

By exploring Dante’s engagement with his religious context and demonstrating that religious experience in Dante’s work shapes experiences of time, subjectivity and the sacred, Leeds has opened up hidden dimensions of the poetry’s theology and helped groups examining their own spirituality and belief. Leeds has a thriving partnership with the Diocese of Wakefield and ran a course in 2012 helping priests, monks, religious educators and interested lay people connect with religious experience today. Leeds has also led Christian and Humanist “thinking groups”, encouraging further engagement with Dante.

Bringing Dante to a wider public 

The research team has worked with Opera North, Leeds Cathedral Choir, Wakefield Cathedral and Wakefield LitFest, and the University of Leeds Chamber Choir to present an original programme of artistic and cultural events based on religious culture in Dante’s Florence, providing a rich, accessible encounter with Dante’s poetry for audiences.

A series of events on Dante, attracting audiences of up to 200 per event, and online resources including podcasts and lectures, have also opened up the research and Dante’s poetry to the public.

Leeds has added a crucial new dimension to Florence’s attractions as a tourist destination…with significance both in terms of tourists’ experience and of our economic and heritage strategies.

UNESCO and the Comune di Firenze
Funders: Arts & Humanities Research Council and British Academy