Lebanon is known to be an artistic hot spot of the Middle East, where music, painting, literature, theatre, and dance all play a vital role in the people’s cultural life. Sadly, the country has been assailed by consecutive crises for nearly two years. The economic and financial crisis was followed by COVID-19 and the explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020. However, the resilient Lebanese people would not let all those catastrophes take precedence over what makes their collective heart beat – art.

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration of Song X of Hell, Vatican Apostolic Library.
We can see Dante, in red, being led by Virgil, in bleu, through Hell.
Sandro Botticelli, Illustration of Canto X of Hell, Vatican Apostolic Library.
© Courtesy of Belser Faksimile Editionen aus der Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Zurich, Stuttgart 1995. Photographs: Frederico Sardella.

From September 14 to 26, the Beirut Art Film Festival celebrated the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death with a series of free events around the Divine Comedy. Publishers, art historians, artists, and filmmakers were given the opportunity to present their work online and in person. 

Could Dante imagine that 700 years after his death, Lebanon, which he quotes in Canto XXX of Purgatory, would celebrate his eternal wonder?

Alice Mogabgab Karam, founder of the Beirut Art Film Festival

To kick off the festivities, the host committee rolled out the red carpet for Dr. Giuseppe Rizzo, art historian from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Diane de Selliers, publisher in Paris. Focussing on the illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy commissioned by Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de Medici to Sandro Botticelli, both speakers engaged in a discussion to draw attention to the tremendous value of this exceptional interpretation of the emblematic text.

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration of the song VI of Paradise, Cabinet of Drawings and Prints of Berlin.
We can see Dante being led through the Celestial Realm.
Sandro Botticelli, Illustration of Canto VI of Paradise, Museum of Prints and Drawings of Berlin.
© Kupferstichkabinett. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kultuerbesitz. Photographs: Philippe Allard.

Diane de Selliers, sole publisher to hold the reproduction rights for the illustrations kept in both The Vatican Apostolic Library and the Kupferstichkabinett – or Museum of Prints and Drawings in Berlin –  first published Dante’s Divine Comedy illustrated by Botticelli in 1996. During her presentation, she explained the challenges she faced, as a young publisher, to access the collections of both institutions. A prime example would be the conditions in which the pictures of Botticelli’s drawings were taken. Indeed, each museum had its own reproduction criteria which resulted in a visual disparity between the pieces held by the Vatican and the Kupferstichkabinett. By highlighting those challenges, Diane de Selliers took her audience behind the scenes of an art publishing house. Topics such as lighting, format, and copyrights were discussed, showing how complex the production of art books can be.

La Divine Comédie de Dante illustrée par Botticelli, Éditions Diane de Selliers
This is an image of the book published by Diane de Selliers in 1996, The Divine Comedy illustrated by Botticelli
La Divine Comédie de Dante illustrée par Botticelli, Éditions Diane de Selliers
© Courtesy of Les Éditions Diane de Selliers

Another key point in this event was the topic of translation. For her 1996 edition of the Divine Comedy, Diane de Selliers Publishing entrusted Jacqueline Risset to carry out this impressive task . Associate professor of Italian, writer and poet, Jacqueline Risset was professor of French literature at La Sapienza University in Rome where she chaired the Center for Italian-French studies. Diane de Selliers wanted to pay tribute to this woman of letters who left us in 2014 through praise of her poetic translation of the Divine Comedy. Tackling a text like Dante’s is a real challenge and requires calling on the best.

Sandro Botticell, Illustration of Canto I of Hell, Vatican Apostolic Library.
Here we can see the famous Map of Hell as imagined by Botticelli.
Sandro Botticell, Illustration of Canto I of Hell, Vatican Apostolic Library.
© Courtesy of Belser Faksimile Editionen aus der Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Zurich, Stuttgart 1995. Photographs: Frederico Sardella.

Throughout Diane de Selliers’s presentation, Dr. Giuseppe Rizzo read passages from the original Italian text by Dante. This creation of an immersive experience between words and images is at the heart of Diane de Selliers Publishing’s editorial policy. Interestingly, during the Renaissance, the production of a book such as the Divine Comedy illustrated by Botticelli would have been received as a cultural ideal meant to help elevate the soul to the divine.

In its purest form of bringing into the world a cultural object, is the work of a publisher then supposed to elevate the soul?
Useful links

To find out more about the festival and rewatch some of the events click here.
To explore more titles from Les Éditions Diane de Selliers (Diane de Selliers Publishing) click here.

All images from this article © Courtesy of Les Éditions Diane de Selliers.