Belgium Dantesque Encyclopedia

By | December 21, 2021

Since the Renaissance age, musicians and painters came from Belgium to Italy to learn or perfect their craft: many of them took up permanent residence there. Some, having known the work of D., found the inspiration for their own production there. Albert Counson recalls that the musicians Josquin des Prés (1490-1521) and Adrien Willaert (? 1490-1562) had “dedicated compositions to Dante’s passages that have not reached us”. Among the painters, Giusto di Gand (or some other Flemish disciple of Melozzo da Forlì) is believed to be the author of a portrait of D. preserved today in the Louvre museum. Jean van der Straet – lo Stradano (Bruges 1523-Florence 1605) – painted illustrations for the Comedy, an allegory representing D., Virgilio and Beatrice and a picture of Ugolino in his tower. From these paintings,

If La Concorde des deux Langages by Jean Lemaire de Belges (1473? -1547?) Supports the Italian ambitions of Louis XII, of whom the writer was a historian, he can be considered Belgian, since, born in Hainaut, he was one of the most of the court of Margaret of Austria in Malines. The second épitre de l’Amant Veri was dedicated to his protector, in which numerous comparisons with Dante’s Inferno can be found.

In the following centuries the French influence dominates in Belgium: love for D., or rather simple knowledge, will be the prerogative of scholars alone: ​​we know that Artaud de Montor had precious indications for his Dante works from Brugge Van Praet.

The struggles of the Risorgimento, driving out numerous exiles on the roads of exile, brought many Italians to the Belgium he had published an article on Dante in the “Mercure belge”. In his living room, the exiles met the greatest exponents of Belgian culture. Countess de Lalaing, born Maldeghem, who counted among her ancestors a translator of Petrarch, a friend of that house, turned Cesare Balbo’s Life of Dante into French (1846) and gave French versions of the sonnets Love and So kind and so honest it seems (Vita Nuova XXI and XXVI, 1853). In 1843 Ernest Buschmann published a mediocre poem entitled Francesca da Rimini (“Revue Belge”

The painter Edouard De Biefre (1808-1882), a pupil of David d’Angers and Paul Delaroche, then a resident of Paris, sent a large-scale painting to the Brussels Salon in 1836: Comte Ugolin et ses fils dans la tour de Pise, of which Coomans made an engraving reproduced by L. Alvin in his “compte du rendu du salon d’exposition.”

Charles De Coster, the author of Thyl Ulenspiegel, evoked in one of his stories, taken from the Flemish popular tradition, Smetse Smee, a “spectacle bien merveilleux”, which is nothing more than a description of Hell: if this episode does not it has nothing that recalls Dante’s poem, one can however think that it was inspired by the reading of the Comedy made by the writer in the years of his maturation.

With the literary renewal that manifested itself in Belgium both for French and Flemish letters, around 1880, the interest in Italy and its poets continued to expand. D. is cited more than once in the writings, speeches, correspondence, and diaries of the writers of the “Jeune Belgique”: in the combative magazine, Fernand Severin (1867-1931) published two poems, which were then resumed in volumes of verses, La Béatrice (Sept. 1891) and La Dame de Grâce (Nov. 1893), whose contents reveal an undoubted Dante influence. We know that, since high school, the future professor had been interested in the work of D. (who was then reading in translation): he composed a poem of 416 Alexandrians entitled: L’Enfer. Vision du moine Radulphe, which has remained unpublished, in which we find entire passages that are remakes of passages from the poem. Having learned the language during his English exile (1915-1918), Severin later became a tenacious popularizer of the Comedy.

The musician Paul Gilson (1855-1942), who had won the Rome Prize in 1888, wanted to dedicate an oratorio to the episode of Francesca da Rimini: perhaps the subject had been suggested to him by the conservatory librarian, Jules Guilliaume, who he wrote most of the texts that the contestants of the famous music composition contest interpreted in “cantatas”. It was, in any case, on a very mediocre libretto of his that Gilson composed the opera. On the “Jeune Belgique” the music critic Ernest Closson warmly commented on the performance given to the ‛Concerts populaires’; the collaborator of the “Modern Art” reproached the composer, however, for the abuse of the leit-motiv: this reproach was not entirely undeserved. It must also be recognized that the themes were chosen appropriately,

Among the younger poets of the “Jeune Belgique” group, Franz Ansel (1874-1937) could have made an important contribution to the glory of D., since most of his poetic production is inspired by Italy: but they are of little moment the sonnets Le songeur qui revient, and Sur la grève où Virgile…, from the Muses latines (1924). This same collection contains The Vision sous les Oliviers recited on the occasion of Dante’s solemn commemoration of January 25, 1920, a re-enactment of the figure of D. who unfortunately presents, alongside the usual qualities, also the usual defects of the writer.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw some scholars turn the great poem into French or Flemish guise: in 1901, Father Haghebaert gave a complete translation in Louvain, under the title Het Goddelijke Spel, which was revised by Rob. Antonissen, was republished in 1947. Ernest de Lamine devoted many years to the preparation of a French version: only the first two canticles saw the light (Paris 1913-1914): the war, then death, interrupted the work.

World War II forcing the Belgians to have their own editions of classical authors, Robert Vivier presented a Dante anthology (Brussels 1944), while Pierre Poirier gave a Dante Alighieri. Humain-Surhumain, biography with commentary on poorly translated texts (Brussels 1945). Shortly thereafter, a young scholar, Paul Goddaert, published a French text of De vulgari Eloquentia (Louvain 1948).

If scholars became increasingly interested in D.’s work, essayists also paid more attention to him. Arnold Goffin (1863-1934) gave, in his Poussières du Chemin (Brussels 1923), a series of notes on D., which he had also commented on in the magazine “Le Flambeau” (July 1920). The centenary of 1921, giving rise to a series of events, among other numerous conferences and academic sessions, offered opportunities to some prominent personalities to make their contribution to a wider knowledge and a better appreciation of the Italian writer. It is not necessary to mention all the articles that appeared between 1920 and 1922: it is enough to note the names of Cardinal Mercier, Ernest Verlant, Paul Errera, for the French-speaking part, August Vermeylen and Julius Persijn, for the Flemish part..

The great Dutch-speaking poet, Karel Vande Woestijne (1878-1929) read, in the session dedicated to D. from the Royal Academy of Flemish Language and Literature, his poem Ontmoeting met Dante (“Encounter with D.”), which, retouched, was resumed in the Opera omnia; for his part, Father Hilarion Thans read his Dante in the first session organized by the Flemish committee for Dante’s honors: it appears today in the collection Verloren stroom (“Lost River”).

The cult of D. was becoming more and more fervent: new translations and writings by Robert Vivier (1951, 1954, 1960), very demanding studies by Roger Dragonetti (1961 and 1966), meticulous essays by Yolande Alaerts (1954) and Jean Constant (1962)) fixed their attention on specific points of Dante’s work. In the Flemish part of Belgium Clement Daenen he studied D.’s relations with Flanders (1926), while in a work of comparative literature, he compared D. and Henriette Roland Holst-Vander Schalck (1930). The synthetic works of the canon De Beer (De onsterfelijke Dante, “l’Emmortale D.”, Louvain 1955) and of Father Van Mierlo (De Divina Commedia, Turnhout 1942 and 1946) are popular writings to which serious notes need to be made. For Belgium 2000, please check

In 1929 the Liege painter Armand Jamar (1870-1946) went to Bruges with the intention of renewing his inspiration: he met the doctor Louis de Winter who suggested new themes, and among these, an illustration of the Comedy. The artist accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm. He gave a huge series of pictorial interpretations of Dante’s episodes, which still remain the private property of the heirs of the Bruggese patron, but which he had revealed to the public in anthological exhibitions (Bruges 1947-1948, Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Brussels 1965).

In the centenary year, precisely on the occasion of the Jamar exhibition held in Charleroi, the sculptor Darville made a terracotta medallion, reproducing the profile of the poet. It is perhaps not inappropriate to recall that the castle of Attre has a little-known bronze statue of D., the work of the French Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887).

The musician Norbert Rosseau who, in his young years, traveled through Italy a bit as a child prodigy, later studied at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome: he had the pleasure of getting to know the Italian soul thoroughly. Dell’Inferno set the first three songs to music; his work is still unpublished.

Even the writers took from D. the start for new works: there is no need to insist on the circumstantial verses of Victor Kinon (1873-1953), La colère de Dante (1921), nor on the sonnet of Albert Giraud (1860 -1929), Le rive de Dante (1919). Mediocre and incomplete the poems of Léon Kochnitzky (1892-1965), who made a series of lecturae Dantis (1925) in Brussels and strove to spread more and more knowledge of the Comedy in his native country. On the other hand, the triptych by Robert Vivier (1894) is important both for its originality and for its poetic meaning: In the middle of the walk: Un soir du temps, La chanson du Léthé, Le dur retour, from the Chronos rêve collection (1959).

The Flemish writers also felt the fascination of D.: Albe (pseudonym of Albert Joostens) gave an admirable translation of the Rhymes for the Pietra woman (Brussels 1966).

But the one who took from D. the most effective inspiration for his own production was the Bruggese Hugo Claus (1929): he cherished the hope of giving a personal poetic commentary on the Comedy. He soon realized, however, that his strength would not hold up to the task: in 1962 he entrusted Karel Jonckheere, who published them in an anthology of unpublished – Uit het nest geroofd (“Stolen from the nest”) – his Nine marginal poems in Hell, Canto XIII, then resumed in the complete poems (Gedichten, 1966): these are original and seductive interpretations. In an insightful study, Jean Weisgerber showed how Claus’s novel, De Verwondering (“The Admiration”, 1962) finds its origin, as well as part of its theme, in Hell and Purgatory, even though the Italian poet is interpreted ‛backwards’,

We will also quote some poems by Flemish writers, inspired by D.’s love for Beatrice: Dante tot Beatrice, by Urbain Van de Voorde (1951), Beatrice’s groet (“The greeting of Beatrice”), by Raoul Claeys, and Dante en Beatrice (“D. and Beatrice”), by Rik Vandermoere.

Certainly the diffusion of D. in Belgium came very late: by now, however, his cult is firmly professed also in this country. The unique issues of magazines published on the occasion of the seventh centenary bear witness to this: Lettres romanes, Marche romane, Bulletin de l’Académie Royale de Langue et de Littérature françaises.

Belgium Dantesque Encyclopedia