Once upon a time, in a magnificent palazzo in the center of Firenze (Florence) Italy, lived Beatrice Portinari with her adoring family. They spent their summers and weekends in the cool Florentine hills in her family’s serene villa—the quiet and lush Tuscan countryside unfolding just beyond the city. Italy, in 1275, was on the cusp of the Italian Renaissance, poised to leave medieval times behind.
“Bice,” celebrated her 8th birthday with a lavish party at her country villa. There she met young Dante Alighieri for the first time. The 9 year-old-boy found himself speechless—love at first sight. More than just smitten with her beauty, he sensed something deeper. Her presence seemed to exude a spiritual quality, an aura of perfection. Had Dante seen an angel? Perhaps. Would his life ever be the same? No.
Dante also lived in Firenze, but his family had a country villa, as well. In fact, his country home was just a ten-minute walk from Beatrice‘s place. Even though they shared a geographically small world, they only encountered one another a few times in their lives. Sadly, Bice died at the age of 24, but her influence remained a constant companion in both Dante‘s writing and in his dreams—she was his muse and inspiration.
Dante‘s book La Vita Nuova was written about his love for Beatrice. His adoration was neither physical nor earthly, but was rather an ethereal, aspirational, platonic or even agape love that inspired his journey toward enlightenment. In Dante’s La Davina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), Beatrice appeared as a guide to lead him into Heaven. While Dante could only approach Heaven, Beatrice took her seat next to God, as an amazing divine spirit—truly other-worldly.
We imagine our “Best Self” as a modest reflection of Heaven’s perfection. In order to move toward our “Heavenly Best,” don’t we all need a muse—someone who inspires, guides and leads us to our highest possibility? How romantic a thought, to be smitten by an earthly presence who shows us a way that we could otherwise never even imagine. For us, the story of Dante and Beatrice presents a powerful, idealistic yet tangible image—a vision to help us navigate this Life on Earth and beyond.
Featured image above: Dante encounters Beatrice in the historic center of Florence, Italy C1285—this painting is dated 1883 by the artist Henry Holiday, on display in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England.
Dante: Painting by Attilio Roncaldier 1801-1884, Ravenna, Museo Dantesco.
Beatrice: Painting by Washington Allston 1819, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Related Stories and Music
This musical story and lyrics were written by Cheryl, alone in Tuscany on a cold winter dusk as she gazed out the window toward the beautiful Villa Portinari. Following are her poetic musings put to music.
This music was spontaneously written and recorded in our Tuscan cantina by Joshua Housh in 2009—inspired by the mystery of the nearby historic villas of Beatrice and Dante.