Visions of Heaven: Dante and the Art of Divine Light by Martin Kemp - review by Dmitri Levitin

Dmitri Levitin

A Gleam in the Eye

Visions of Heaven: Dante and the Art of Divine Light


Lund Humphries 240pp £45

Books written to mark literary anniversaries and books about Renaissance art have, to my mind, something in common: one often approaches them with a degree of trepidation. Will the author really have anything new to say or are they only cashing in on a numerological coincidence or on the beauty of their subject matter? From such a standpoint, Martin Kemp’s Visions of Heaven is doubly worth celebrating, for it offers a wonderfully original and stimulating account of Italian Renaissance art by approaching it from a new perspective: as a series of attempts to deal with the problem of how to represent ‘divine light’ – a problem that also faced the greatest Italian vernacular poet, Dante Alighieri, who died seven hundred years ago.

Christianity is only one of many religions in which an analogy between light and the divine is frequently drawn. Moreover, the analogy is often a double one. Like light, God reveals and gives life. But the transcendence of the divine can also be blinding or unfathomable. Dante’s Divine Comedy, especially

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