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Mendicants and Muslims in Dante’s Florence

Mendicants and Muslims in Dante’s Florence

(p.193) Mendicants and Muslims in Dante’s Florence
Dante and Islam
John Tolan
Fordham University Press

In the eleventh canto of the Paradiso, Dante paints a vivid portrait of Francis of Assisi, a new rising sun in the Orient. A key episode in the spiritual itinerary of the saint, for Dante as for many other authors and artists, is his preaching Christ in the “proud presence” of the sultan, into whose presence he was driven by his “thirst for martyrdom”. To what extent is Dante’s vision of this central event in Francis’ life shaped by what he read, heard and saw in Florence, particularly in the Franciscan Convent of Santa Croce? How did this shape both his understanding of Francis and of Francis’ mission to the Egyptian sultan? In this as is many things, Dante borrows extensively from earlier models but shows considerable originality and innovation. In order to comprehend the key place given by Dante to Francis’ preaching to the sultan, I first briefly study the presence of the two mendicant orders in thirteenth-century Florence and of representations of Francis—and particularly of his encounter with the sultan—in the texts and pictorial representations with which Dante was familiar. Finally, I take a close look at Dante’s portrayal of Francis to see what he does with these sources.

Keywords:   Islam, Mission, Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, Franciscans, Dominicans, Florence, Giotto

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