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Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Beata Beatrix ("Blessed Beatrice", between 1864 and 1870). Rossetti understood the painting "not as a representation of Beatrice's death, but as an ideal of the subject, symbolised by a trance or sudden spiritual transfiguration. Beatrice rises visibly rapt to heaven, which she sees as through her closed eyelids [...] and in a sign of supreme transformation the radiant bird, a messenger of death, drops the white poppy between her open hands."[1] In the background is the city of Florence, mourning her death, and on the right Dante, gazing at the red-robed figure of Love (left), who holds Beatrice's waning life as a flickering flame. The shadow of the sundial next to her falls on the number nine, which Dante mystically associates with Beatrice and her death.

Beatrice (from Occitan: "the Beatifying"; Latin: Beatrix) is a central figure in works by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). In Dante's imagery, she is a symbol of the purified astral body transformed into the spirit self, which in Christian terminology is also called the Virgin Sophia. As a symbol of the vita contemplativa, she embodies the true Christian faith, the true "theologia", which Dante interprets entirely in terms of Templar esotericism.

„If you follow the teachings of the Templars, there is something at the centre that was worshipped as something feminine. This feminine was called the divine Sophia, the divine wisdom. Manas is the fifth principle, the spiritual self of man, which should arise, to which a temple should be built. And just as the pentagon from the entrance to Solomon's temple characterises the five-membered man, so too does this feminine characterise the wisdom of the Middle Ages. With his "Beatrice", Dante wanted to portray nothing other than this wisdom. Only those who look at Dante's "Divine Comedy" from this point of view can understand it. Therefore you will find the same symbols in Dante's work that are expressed in the Templars, the Christian knighthoods, the Grail knights and so on.“ (Lit.:GA 93, p. 152)

Beatrice Portinari

Henry Holiday's painting Dante and Beatrice (1883) is inspired by La Vita Nuova. Dante looks longingly at Beatrice (yellow in center) passing by with her friend Lady Vanna (red) along the Arno River at the Ponte Santa Trinita.

In his "Vita Nova" ("The New Life"), Dante mentions for the first time a Beatrice who had died at an early age and whom he had met in Florence. The model for his literary Beatrice was, as Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) first suspected in his biography of Dante[2], Beatrice Portinari (* 1266; † 8 June 1290), a daughter of the banker Folco Portinari, whom the nine-year-old Dante first met at a spring festival. Beatrice was then just at the beginning of her ninth year. From the beginning, her angelic pure figure enchanted him. Nine years later he met her for the second time at a youth festival, where she presented him with a flower wreath. At the age of 20, Beatrice married the banker and knight Simone dei Bardi in Dante's presence, but died soon after in the wake of an epidemic at the age of 24.

Dante has pointed out that his "Commedia" has not only a simple but a fourfold sense of writing. Thus, as Arthur Schult has convincingly shown, Beatrice also has a fourfold meaning:

„When Beatrice says:

Of all that nature and art showed thee,
My limbs delighted you the most,[3]

these words, in addition to the spiritual meaning that will be spoken of later, also have an earthly meaning, are an affirmation of sexual-erotic love. The urges are to be kept healthy. He who knows about the transitoriness of all earthly pleasures and soaks them up and enjoys them gratefully in the sacramental sense is closer to the eternal than an ascetic who does not experience true salvation if he suppresses the instinct. Sexus is the gateway for Eros, which can be elevated to Agape. The path of Eros initiation, as shown by Plato in the "Symposion", leads from the beautiful body and the beautiful soul to the sea of divine beauty, from limited beauty to the unlimited vision of the eternal-beautiful, from the sensual-fading image to the spring-like-flowing divine creative power. This was also Dante's path. On this path, however, there is always the danger of slipping into soulless sensuality, into mere sensual enjoyment, to which Dante also often succumbed; and in this sense he confesses himself guilty.

In his dedicatory letter to Cangrande della Scala, Dante spoke of the multi-layered meaning of his Divina Commedia and pointed out that it was based on a fourfold sense: the literal sense, the allegorical sense, the moral sense and the anagogical sense. Applying this approach to the figure of Beatrice, we can say: in the literal sense, Beatrice is, as just described, a youthful lover in Florence; in the allegorical sense, she is the genius of the heavenly paradise, the completely chaste human being; in the moral sense, she is the symbolic figure of the vita contemplativa, of seeing God; in the anagogical sense, she is the hierophant of the heavenly paradise as divine wisdom, especially seen in the aspect of the Templar gnosis and the spiritual church.

The verses:

Of all that nature and art showed thee,
My limbs delighted thee the most,
Which are now scattered all over the earth.[3]

also refer, in a hidden way, to the trial of the Order of the Knights Templar and its consequences. The addition "who are now scattered everywhere on earth" ("membra ... in terra sparte") cannot refer to the limbs of the earthly Beatrice, who were in no way scattered. By the limbs of Beatrice are meant here those members of the Order of the Knights Templar who were scattered over the whole earth in the attack on the Order.“ (Lit.: Schult, p. 443f)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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  1. Rossetti writes in a letter to William Graham of 3 March 1873 that his painting was intended
    „not as a representation of the incident of the death of Beatrice, but as an ideal of the sub- ject, symbolized by a trance or sudden spiritual transfiguration. Beatrice is rapt visibly into Heaven, seeing as it were through her shut lids (as Dante says at the close of the Vita Nuova): "Him who is Blessed throughout all ages"; and in sign of the supreme change, the radiant bird, a messenger of death, drops the white poppy between her open hands. In the background is the City which, as Dante says: "sat solitary" in mourning for her death; and through whose street Dante himself is seen to pass gazing towards the figure of Love opposite, in whose hand the waning life of his lady flickers as a flame. On the sundial at her side the shadow falls on the hour of nine, which number Dante connects mystically in many ways with her and with her death. The date below the predella (31st March 1300) is that of Dante's meeting Beatrice in the Garden of Eden. [The date 9 June 1290 heading the main panel represents the date of Beatrice's death.] The words, "Veni, Sponsa De Libano" are sung at the meeting by the women in the train of Beatrice.“ (zit. nach Lady Frances Horner: Time Remembered, W. Heinemann, London 1933 [1]
  2. Boccaccio, p. 19ff
  3. 3.0 3.1 Purgatorio 31, 49-51